Working in the Drug Room
Notes made surreptitiously in a textile mill at Renfrew village,
a mile north of Traveler's Rest, which is eight miles north of Greenville,
South Carolina. Slightly bowdlerized.
Ever since coming to live in the mill village I've been wanting to work in the mill. Because it's there, overlooking us and blowing its smoke and siren over us; and because I want to know what it's like inside and what it feels like to be a worker there. The community is based on it, as South Carolina and the whole corner of the South is or was based on cotton and mills. And if I were to complain about that smoke, I'd better do it after rather than before working there. And just now I need to earn a certain finite sum of money. At $1.99 an hour, it will have to be finite indeed.
A thin man tramps through our alley every day; one day I was down there and talked with him. He used to work in the mill, in the Finishing Department. The cloth went through steam, was stretched wider; he was in charge of five of these machines, tending his own controlling the amount of steam and giving help with the others if they broke down. He got no more than the other workers; $1.99 an hour, the minimum wage. Now he'd gone to work at another mill, a bit better but very dusty. He lives in the trailer-park behind the wood, walks through the wood to our alley as a short cut to the road.
Mill and mill village
Renfrew Bleachery is the finishing plant for Abney Mills.
Chimney seen above trees sometimes not smoking, or smoking thinly, but much more often smoking thickly black smoke pouring all the way to the horizon by first light sometimes all night sometimes Sundays.
Shifts from seven in the morning to three, three to eleven, eleven to seven. Siren sounds at seven and three (and warning of two blasts ten minutes before the seven o'clock one). Hoarse boom like a giant asthmatic cow. Dogs of the neighborhood yodel back at it every time.
At random times, though especially in the small hours of Monday morning when the mill is starting up, great hisses fill the air of the district, as a head of steam is released from the boiler.
Mill dump is in the woodland across the road. Hundreds of soggy barrels that chemicals came in. Sewage pond that they have to churn all the time to keep the smell down.
Small system of roads (the village or sometimes Mill Hill) behind with mill houses, that is, houses built originally for employees. Quite large one-storey wooden houses standing on brick basements, and with wide front and back porches in the usual southern style. Not many mill workers in them now. Most come by car. Large parking lot where a playing field had been.
At the end of one row of the houses, a two-storey house, Miz' Murphy's boarding house. Here newly arrived or unmarried workers stayed. Orchard next to it; chickasaw plums; a fine cypress.
Past it, lane leads down by the mill's coal-heap, turns left and runs a hundred yards into the woods; ends in a group of eight houses. This is the colored section, Niggertown. The four houses to the right or lower side stand on small brick legs, though some of the gaps are filled with breezebloeks or bits of wood. Two of these houses are very tumbledown. The other six very smart. One, ambitious, has large plastic flowers massed all along the rail of the front porch. A bit of one lies in the read, gone gray.
This colored section is so placed that the smoke from the mill chimney usually alights on it. The kids from it come to the bend of the lane to wait for the school bus. One would think that either the bus could go a hundred yards farther, to their houses, since it has to turn down the lane anyway, or they could be allowed to walk fifty yards farther to the top of the lane, where the other kids gather for the bus.
The acres of pines surrounding the mill dump are only about twenty years old. The area used to be open and the people who lived in the houses had vegetable gardens there. Then, when the mill sold the houses off (presumably to their occupants, though it's hard to imagine that these all had the cash at the same time), the company deprived them of their gardens and had the pines planted for sale as timber.
Here, as usual, it is all scrub pines (Virginia pines) with a fronting of eastern white pines to make it look good. There is virtually nothing under the pines except pine-needles. Biologists point out that solid pine-plantations between fifteen and forty years old to which so much of South Carolina is given over for profit are almost biological deserts, with few herbs, insects, birds.
But the pine-needles are soft to sleep on and (it occurs to me) could make a capacious mosquito-free bedroom within a short walk of the mill for several hundred migrant workers.
Big house half a mile south. Plant manager's house. It's a beautiful old house of the southern type on its own grassy hill. Next hill north is forested, over that peeps the mill chimney. So the plant manager is out of the rather ugly sight of his mill, but can see the chimney top, so he knows that the place is still standing and still working, or at least churning out smoke.
The superior mill and its sparrow
Out in the country on the way to Pumpkintown is Gayley Mill, where Steve Spratt works as personnel manager. Steve is such a dedicated employee that he never goes away for vacations, and has a framed aerial photo of the mill on the wall of his living-room. The mill is a clean bland modern block, with another going up next to it. These blocks sit at the head of a slope of grass, in the middle of a square hall of open land; all around, woods, with the occasional lake and stream. The employees all come in their cars.
When Steve hears I think of trying for work in Renfrew Mill, he recruits me for Gayley Mill instead. It wouldn't be the same, but I go one day and wait to see him. The waiting-room has a glass front looking down over the grassy slope to the road and a meadow beyond with cows. Right-wing pamphlets are provided as reading-matter on low tables. I remember that the Spratts often refer to Libertarian ideas, Ayn Rand. It seems this philosophy is handed down by the owners, the Deering Milliken company.
There are no vacancies, because students are working in their vacation. There is to be a new kind of in-between shift to overcome some of the difficulties that the fixed three-shift system makes for employees, and they haven't many takers for this and Steve wants me to join it; I fill out forms.
Then he takes me on a walk through the plant. He has moved his operations, whatever they are, to a little room in the middle. I understand little of what I see, but I see strikingly pictorial sights: hot rivers of intensely colored cloth filling the noisy building with rounded-geometrical flows.
I could work here by cycling or hitch-hiking out and back each night, which would be kind of fun in the snow. But why do that, when this mill isn't as typical (or at least as dirty and old) as the one that overhangs me? Steve tells me the Milliken chain is larger, more modern, more efficient, better to its employees. I know I won't take up Steve's offer (though it might be interesting to work here after having experienced our village mill) and yet I'd like to make paintings in a place like this. I put it to him that I could bring a chair and make sketches; perhaps Mr. Milliken would like some nice colored pictures for use in brochures? Steve agrees doubtfully.
I read in a little book by Jay Shuler, the nature-correspondent of the Piedmont, that the only known nesting-place of Henslow's sparrow in Greenville County is some bushes in the grounds of Gayley Mill.
Waiting in Personnel Office. Even this far from the machinery, its noise is like chariots driving through the ceiling and all the walls; armatures of the long neon lights above the desks rattle and buzz.
I am to start at three in the afternoon. Meanwhile sent to the nurse for measurements and tests of blood, urine, sight. Old man comes into this First Aid Room and asks for Bufferin; back hurting because he fell at work yesterday.
I have to go for the physical proper to Dr. Coleman in Traveler's Rest. He may be in his office at three, maybe a little before; anyway I'll be a little late to start work.
I've heard that he's a pathetic old man, must be something wrong with him because he seems to have no patients; physicals for mill employees may be his only employment. There are two Drs. Coleman S,I. and T.E. don't know which this applies to. Only doctors in the main street, but never anyone there; another doctor office some way off toward Highway 25, relatively smart, people queuing there, more work than they can handle.
Two shop windows with a door between them; the windows blank except for lettering Paul I. Vernon, Magistrate on one and Dr. S.I. Coleman, Dr. T.E. Coleman on the other. Inside, double shop front used as waiting room by magistrate and doctors. A secretary in magistrate's office; through the doctors' door, glimpse of an office in which an old man sits doing nothing. He lumbers out to me: You're the one that's coming for a physical? You'll have to wait for T.E., he should be in soon. I go to get something at Vernon's Drugstore next door. The magistrate sits collecting fees in his third capacity of Notary Public. Come back and look in to see whether T.E. has arrived; glimpse again of S.I., sitting in his chair, miserable bored puffy old head, hands in his lap, staring at nothing, surrounded by desk and shelves. These unlike the waiting-room are full of paraphernalia, but he has nothing to do.
The wide waiting-room isn't quite bare: two high ranges of wooden bookshelves in the walls, also some free-standing sloping steel shelves, picture of wild ducks rising, a settee and two chairs with collapsed seats. But all the shelves, of both kinds, are empty. The only reading matter is an old copy of Baby Talk, magazine, for new mothers. I read this. Two big but decrepit men come in. Half an hour after I've read all I can in Baby Talk, one of these men picks it up. He has a tremendous head, with short black hair and a profile that might be a product of my imagination; reminds me of a Welsh coalminer.
At last a car draws up outside and an old man takes several minutes to struggle out of it. He comes through the waiting room slowly on his stick, head bowed. As I get up to follow him, the big black-haired man says: Which mill are you going to work at? Which shift? He almost bars my way, he seems about to hit me for invading the mill, what he is expressing is probably amazement; but I have to follow the doctor to his office, farther back than his brother's. He hangs his hat on a hat-stand, sits down, and seems more alert when he speaks. But the telephone rings; he has a patient, an old lady, she is feeling bad again, he answers her for some minutes, jollying her up quite nicely. Meanwhile I look around: old brown desk and paneling, print in massive imitation-wood frame above desk (grave doctor at pale child's deathbed in laborer's cottage), papers taped all over the walls: checks, certificates of professional registration, cover of South Carolina Wildlife magazine with quails rising, Ten Commandments for Teenagers, a poem called My Get Up and Go, and a poem that says Don't Worry, Don't Hurry / It's Better to be Late / At the Golden Gate / Than to Arrive in Hades on Time. Glimpse of a yet further room in which a folded wheelchaii leans against wall. Musty smell everywhere, like mixture between camphor and urine.
The doctor puts down the telephone. Picks up the small bunch of documents I've brought from the nurse, casts an eye over them, says Vernon Guy, eh? I explain that they got my name wrong. He says: Stand over here. I stand in front of him, he puts the tips of his fingers of both hands against my groin and says Kowf. I cough. He writes a check-mark on one of the documents. For a moment I don't understand that that is all, have to ask him again, the poor old man says: Yes, that's it, you can go.
Pre-employment physical examinations are an important part of the health clinic service. After your pre-employment physical you know you are physically fit for the job.
I shouldn't have laughed at the old doctor. Years later I read Judy Bainbridge's history of the mill. When they were sick, they visited the company doctor, Dr. T.E. Coleman, who lived on Renfrew Avenue and charged minimal fees. That was in the great depression of the 1930s, and he was still serving on in his eighties.
The machine floor, the essential part of the mill, is the greater area of it, a huge maze-like shed, mostly without partitions, divided not at all clearly among the machines of Bleaching, Dyeing, and Finishing. As it happens, most of Dye's machines run at right angles to those of Finishing, but Bleach's run in all directions. The machines are narrow but as long and high as houses.
There is a kind of brick house islanded at one side of the machine floor. Doors in it disclose a burst of little colors bottles of dye, and rags of cloth. It's the lab, where the dye formulas are worked out or corrected. And above it is the drug room, where the dyes are then made up in tanks. The dyes then have to flow down by gravity to the machines.
To get to the drug room you go up an iron stair. As you reach the top, heat is at a maximum, because you are level with the ovens and other hottest parts in the tops of the machines, and heat in any case would move to the top of the air space. But as soon as you go through the drug room door and shut it you are cool: the drug room actually has windows to the outside air, and they are open.
The door itself is an iron slab which makes a rasping crash as it is opened or shut. Secluded up here with the door to warn them, the men can smoke or look idle.
When Willie Hayes, Dye Department
boss, first took me up here, he was saying something about I
started downstairs and worked my way up I got the impression
he was telling me he would start me up here where it's pleasant,
leaving out some steps of his own early career, because he saw I
had enough brain for the work of mixing the drugs. And when he said
something encouraging about quite a good career in dyes
assuming I wanted a permanent job I guiltily felt that
I liked Mr. Hayes and would be sorry to let him down by leaving
in a few weeks. But next time I saw him, he was standing with people
more important than himself and gave me an abrupt command, and I
liked him no longer. As for the job of Drug Room Help requiring
brains, I had made a mistake there: I haven't noticed another job
in the whole mill that could be done, as mine can, by someone who
knows nothing at all and has others at hand to direct him in everything.
The drug room is a long narrow witches' kitchen. Four platforms along it, of rusty iron grid, approached by steps of the same; on each platform, eight or so tanks. The platforms are so that you don't have to stand in the liquors that have splashed from the tanks, or from buckets as you try to pour them into the tanks. The four platforms are known as One, Three, Four, and Five; the tanks on them serve the machines of those numbers, though other little tanks on them serve other miscellaneous machines.
The tanks are officially called tubs; a form says Dumpage from tub from pad. Pads are the dye-baths in the machines. Standard tanks are 150 gal1ons. The notched sticks for measuring how much is in them (wooden, made in Canada) show this as 25 notches; so each notch represents six gallons. Not the easiest for calculating; but traditional. Actually the tanks brim-full hold 156 gallons, so there are 26 notches on the sticks. Some tanks are 300 gallons (they look hardly larger), some 100.
Into each tank there descend from above to various depths a water pipe; a steam pipe (for heating the liquor); sometimes a smaller steam pipe ending in a coil around the bottom (this is to agitate with smaller pressures of steam, but you can forget it is on and then the water gets too hot); sometimes an agitator (propeller blades on the end of a spinning shaft); sometimes a pipe for bringing common salt brine from the place where it is made up; sometimes a pipe for bringing the so-called salts and bases from the place where they are made up; sometimes a pipe for pumping dye back from the pad in the machine, when it is to be changed; sometimes an air pipe, for stirring when there is no agitator. Into several of the tanks there is another pipe, I asked what it is, but it's disused, they've forgotten where it even led from. The handle of its valve is rusted brown but the rest of it is rusted blue-purple, being made of another metal.
The air pipe is usually set at low pressure, releasing bubbles at a mild rate almost on the bottom surface of the tank. When the tank is empty , that is all it looks like, and the few gallons of liquid are stirred mildly in proportion. But when the tank is full, there is a considerable upchurning of water around the air pipe. Apparently the bubbles in rising gather speed or force as they go, so that when they have a long way to go they create more disturbance, and so the larger body of liquid is agitated in about the same proportion. If you turn the air up any more than this minimum bubbling, it can blow the mix right out of the tank on you.
When the tank is almost empty, the end of the air pipe at last gets above the liquid and makes a slight hiss; if your ear is practised, you can pick this up at a distance and use it as a signal to come and attend to the tank cut off its outlet valve, open the other tank's outlet, refill the empty one in readiness.
The many kinds of inlet pipes form a confused mass along the ceiling. The outlet pipes drain from the middle of the bottom of each tank, and form another mass on the floor, where you walk on them to turn their valves on and off. (It can be done with the feet.) Big pipes are dump-pipes, which dump the waste liquors on the floor as often as down the drain. Smaller pipes run to the machines: from near the base of each platform, a cluster of them pierces the brick wall, and on the other side they can be seen slung along under the ceiling of the machine room.
People; language; conditions
I am very much the junior in the drug room team; it's Doug and Allyn, with me as appendage. Doug is like a cook (his activity is really like a cook's); Allyn is like a butcher or a blacksmith (his appearance, his physical presence).
Doug: How about hepping me fetch some dye?
Allyn: Get yer gleuves.
Doug to me: That boy you're working with, Allyn, is a bit short-spoken, but don't mind him. At this stage I hadn't really noticed; the noise and the accent made it equally difficult for me to hear anyone's commands. You ask me whenever there's anything you don't understand. I'm rather soft-spoken myself.
Y'all was waitin' on me instead o' me waitin' on y'all.
We done lost a page off the back here.
We ain't tuck much out o' this.
I druther write it in.
He knocked a barrel over and couldn't pick it up by hisseff.
That fur (That far).
They won't be much (There won't . . . )
They might could get one for you. You might ought to go see.
He hasn't hit a lick (he hasn't done a stroke of work).
Doug says: Set him down there (of a barrel); Go ahead and pump him up (of a mix in a tank).
Valve rather than stopcock or tap or spigot. Pipes are called lines (like the gas-line in a car).
Cut a switch or valve on or off, and mash a button, as throughout the South.
Short a sounds like e in some words. Elbert's name, though spelt that way, perhaps was Albert in an earlier generation. Whipsize elberta peach trees advertized in the paper.
Alcohol pronounced alk-hol, hence spelt Alchol on some barrels.
Mur'atic acid, always spelt muratic too that is, muriatic acid, which is the commercial (or the American?) term for hydrochloric acid.
Tell him where it's at, Where's your Polyterge at? the at considered redundant in other dialects.
Off of, even on a printed form in a laboratory, headed GOODS OFF OF MACHINES.
Take it down yonder; It's back yonder. But below and above are used in place of beyond. Put it down yonder below them barrels meaning beyond them. Simpsonville is a bit below Mauldin meaning beyond and also south of and also lower down the slope.
That's good, with slightly rising final intonation, for That's okay or Leave it there or That's enough. Or, That's good enough with accent on enough.
It won't hurt a thing (if you put, say, a gallon too much Stabilon in); accent on thing. Part of a complex of negative ways of saying positive things; especially Allyn's There's not a thing in the world wrong with it.
A particular sort of clowning between the older men making playful attacks on each other from the rear, tickling each other's crotches, knocking each other's butts with buckets as they pass, unexpectedly hoisting each other by the back of the britches is much like the obscene horseplay of clowning Navajos at the Fire Dance. With the mill-workers it is part of their general joking-relationship, which includes brief simple jokes that they make as they pass, teasing about You're taking it easy, I see, yelling Hello, Will to anybody whether his name is Will or not, strange high-pitched cries to those in the distance. But I think the Navajo men do not have a similar verbal relationship.
Women: apart from the clerical offices, women work only in Bleaching and Finishing, not in Dye. There is far more noise in Finishing, and it seems only women's voices could pierce it when they have to call things to each other.
Blacks: five or six of them (not counting other shifts, and those outside who are mowing the grass or removing the barrels to the dump). Some have jobs which are rather separate, such as driving the Hysters; others (young) manage to look separate, just going to and fro at their work with calm dangerous faces. No black has reached the executive class.
Executive class: those who wear clean pants, white shirts, and in the shirt pocket a plastic device containing pens, pencils, markers, and printed with Abney Mills and their names. These men have been to the Tech to learn dyestuff technology, and they are based in the air-conditioned regions offices or lab. But they come out of these much of the time, mix in the dirty work (must have more problems with their laundry), and receive joking insults from the men of the dirty class.
The atmosphere is good. People ask each other to do things; people don't fight; people don't check up on each other's time. When there is a job to do they have to do it, but when there isn't they don't feel obligated to pretend they are doing something. In the drug room, we have to work hard and make up the dye when it's going to be needed, and we have to watch every now and then to see when it will next be needed, but in between that is, most of the time we wait. On the dyehouse floor, and I suppose in the other departments, which all consist mainly of machines to be minded, they must also work quite hard when there is something to be got ready, and then their waiting consists mainly of standing by the machine.
When there is a substantial pause, somewhere around the middle of the evening, Doug expresses this by saying to me: Have you had your supper yet?
They have to be able to stand, looking tough and meditative and expressionless and natural and friendly and cunning and not-too-clever, all in one, for an hour at a time.
Allyn usually stands with one foot up on a barrel or on the steps leading to a platform. staring at nothing. Doug relaxes more than anybody else; he sits down on the barrel of ammonium phosphate next to his work-surface.
Relief when they say Well, if you'll hold it down, I'll go for a smoke. Alone in the drug-room for a while, I can warily read, or even more warily jot notes, or just relax in my own way.
Where is it that they keep going for their smokes, the only thing they have to occupy them in the long slack times? I discover that they go to the Smoking Area, at the foot of the iron stair just outside our door.
The Smoking Area is four-by-four comfortless feet, rigidly set aside out of the vast factory floor. Surrounded by a green-painted iron rail; a green-painted plank for a bench against the green-painted wall. Three men could sit side by side but only two at their usual social distance. Smoking is their only relief, they must spend a lot on it fifty cigarettes in a shift? They aren't supposed to smoke anywhere but in this tiny pen, though the drug room being rather sequestered, the few men there smoke more freely.
The canteen is a room with food-machines. Air-conditioned, and so the only cool place apart from next to windows and a few other accidental spots. Table down the middle of the canteen at height for standing men to lean their elbows, though too low for me. No chairs here or anywhere except in the offices.
But the job is mainly waiting, doing nothing. Receive an order, get the ingredients into the tank, then wait till it runs out or there's another order or something else to do. Nobody but me seems to want to sit, read, talk, or go away.
The pay has gone up a cent: I get $2 an hour.
A federal notice about the minimum wage (which is lower for agricultural workers) is posted over the smoking-area; if you are getting less, you can take legal action, etc. The notice looks old and grimy and someone tells me it's out of date, the minimum wage is now higher than what we're getting. I'm not sure this is correct, someone else tells me the minimum wage is only $1.65 (and $1.60 in educational institutions).
Everyone gets one week of vacation a year: the week of July the 4th.
Labor Day and New Year's Day are holidays with pay, Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day are holidays without pay. But you may be made to work on any of these.
There is a pension plan, and a profit-sharing plan, but they are one and the same: the profit-sharing plan is what is used to pay the pension. What you get on death or retirement depends on how much you get from Social Security, how much profit the company is making, and how long you've worked for the company. If you leave the company before retirement age or if you are fired, which could be when you are 64 you get nothing.
The men's lavatory is two doorless stalls. Nothing else but copious notices about no loafing, not abusing these federal installations provided for your convenience.
Back in the days when they had outhouses, they had toilets with square holes in the seats, so that it was uncomfortable to sit and waste time.
Buckets of water don't look like any water you've ever seen. They have colors, crusts, foams, each of their own. If you see a clear liquid, don't treat it as water, it is something that will set tankfuls of other things cooking or will etch through metal at .003 of an inch per second.
The three little wagons on which we push dye or chemicals to the tanks are so worn and stained that their wood is in part reduced to fibrosity. The piping, fixed in them for handles, lurches around, shakily braced with large nails. Does anybody ever get the men any new tools? On the machines downstairs they don't mend the air-clamps, the gas burners, the drainage pipes; they don't mend the fans, some of which, instead of exhausting the hot air, stand still or even inzaust it.
Doug: good-natured. Only learned the dyeing-trade when he was fifty. But he had worked in other kinds of textile mill before, as most of the men have. I was shocked to hear him say: I got $13 a week when I began now I get $20 a day. He thought it a great improvement, but it meant he still gets only half a dollar an hour more than me.
Yet somehow he has managed to build his own house and buy six acres.
Unlike anybody else in the mill, he reads. The South Carolina Market Bulletin sticks up in the rack beside his work-surface, he subscribes to it. I ask him if he gets it because he buys stock or plants, he says no, he just gets it to read. He asks me about the news from the Middle East: Why do those Arabs hate the Jews so much? He doesn't give signs of accepting my strong view on this as easily as more eager-sophisticated people often do. Next day after we've been talking about it he brings me a National Geographic map of the Middle East, he subscribes to the magazine.
I become a little less secretive about reading a book in periods of leisure. (I have it inside my paper bag with my food, usually I'm ready to slide it back in as soon as anyone else comes back into the room.) Doug fetches from his locker a paperback book and makes a gift of it to me. I take it away and pretend to have read it, but it's a truly trashy detective novel.
Allyn is a powerful man, bald, in his forties.
His trunk is almost square. His stroll (he never moves faster than a deliberate stroll, even if going on an urgent purpose) is as the stroll of a clothes-peg puppet would be: tilting rigidly, right shoulder going down and rightward as he steps on his right foot.
His thick arms make a fine display of the various cord-like muscles that pass around the elbow and flicker in and out between each other. Strolling toward his work, or standing and considering it, he punches one gloved hand into the other.
He has a style, much more developed than his style in words. Imperious gestures to me (lift, tip, take away). Talking with his fellows, a different repertory of gestures hand on hip, point, pat stomach, and especially a judicious pushing out of the lips.
A foppish young man of the educated class comes in to get a sample from one of our buckets, and stops to talk to me. He says he's been here only six weeks, a temporary job, is working in the lab. They asked him if he had studied chemistry in high school; he had, one semester. You could do what we do, he kindly informs me, anyone could who merely knows how to cook well, I don't know how to cook, actually but anyone who could read a recipe, let's say. Momentarily I am disliking my own position so much that I feel like trying some expedient to get into an office job like his.
He says: That Trotter is a mean man, isn't he? I don't know who Trotter is. It's Allyn. I say: He's not mean really, just . . . short-spoken. Oh, yes! He's the nicest man in the world! Hello, Mr. Trotter! Allyn has come in; parting, the young man gives an imitation of one of the whooped deliberately-unintelligible jocularities that the men greet each other with, and slaps Allyn on the back. Allyn looks unimpressed.
I doubt I'll ever find myself giving the whoop or slap, but I'm finding myself more often giving the response of non-response, instead of my own inapplicable response of smiling and trying to understand and reply to whatever has been said to me.
The late afternoon sunlight, through windows, as welcome as the cool wind from them.
Among the dye machines in their long tall aisles, there are sharp notes of light. At first you think these are bits of sun penetrating somewhere overhead, but that is only true of the soft-edged rounded patches on the floor, coming through fans in the clerestory. For the brilliant scarlet seen through a window in the side of a machine, you have to thank one of the lamps hanging inside the machine to illuminate different parts of the stream of cloth.
Later, not having been working in the neighborhood of windows, you look around and can't find any. It's because none now have daylight in them. Night fell sometime in the middle of the shift.
When still unfamiliar with the plant, you find yourself unsure where parts of the outdoors may be. The airspace goes up high overhead, but in some areas it goes up to pipes and power lines and girders and an indefinite roof, and in just a few places it goes up to a sky with a star in it, and you don't notice because airspace goes into airspace through the same vast open doorways.
They were glad when I said I would work Second Shift, because it's harder to get people. I have an idea that it's even harder to get people for Third Shift, and that Third Shift might be almost a holding-operation even fewer people, even fewer machines running, even longer hours of waiting between spells of action. I ask whether this is so, but too cautiously to get an answer I'm wondering whether to try to get myself moved to Third Shift, and am afraid it might seem disloyal to Doug and Allyn. I am at that stage where I feel I would welcome just peace. It's an early stage in any physical-labor job and has little to do with the work, which is not hard. Going to work at the opposite pole of the day, walking out in the dawn, sleeping in the sunshine, might feel even more like an experience and less like a job.
I start out of bed, thinking I hear the mill siren. But it's a component in the noise of a sewing-machine.
In this desert of concrete and poison, a few things live, besides heavy-booted men:
A few small flies, wasps, moths, moving slowly, on or just above the floor. German cockroaches, not many. They don't even run from you, but pause for rest and plod on. Insects sometimes drop from the heated machinery overhead. I saw a large cockroach drop onto the fat neck of Eddie Leeds as he was going into the canteen.
A few untenanted cobwebs.
There is one open-air courtyard, of the same dimensions as the drug room and overlooked by it. In the middle of it, a railed spot two feet square contains a hydrant, and crowded in beside this are two clumps of grass and two brave plants about three feet high, both of the composite family. One I can't identify as it hasn't flowered yet, the other is a White Fireweed (Pilewort, Erechtites hieracifolia, hawkweed-leaved, and at first I thought it was a hawkweed looks like a hawkweed but has slim shaving-brush flowers, which haven't yet matured).
From a window I can see three clumps of moss randomly lodged on the gravel of a warehouse roof. Beyond the mountain-range of coal waiting for the boilerhouse is the top of a pine-forest, with a few tulip-poplars along its edge. And outside the mill gates, yellow wild cosmos is flowering.
Found on the window a magnificent bug. He was one of the more dull-colored of these shapely insects squash-bug brown but I lovingly pored over his pointed shoulders, the orange end-segments of his antennae, the alternating dots along his thighs, the boat-shaped plate or flake containing his body, and the spot of slight transparency right in the middle of him where the edges of his wings crossed. His diminutive beaky head probably contained a system more complex than the entire textile industry. Eventually, though I still wanted to have him to look at, I took him on a Drug Report Form and helped him out of the window.
Thin green crab-spider on a sulfur dye barrel. Mayfly on window, her two tails a full inch long.
I can't at the moment think of anything more beautiful than a
I have a brown stink bug
And I decided to draw her, quickly,
A brush plan of:
The mighty capes of her shoulders;
Her five provinces and how they are chinked together;
The burnished solidities of her back.
But when I doubled her size under a small glass
I found a texture more elaborate than the hand-hammered copper trays of Damascus.
As for whether stink and bug are beautiful,
That is part of the study of man, not of stink bugs.
(This actually was about a different bug, a brown stinkbug, which the children brought to me dead and I kept it for several days.)
Dyes; cloths; dye-formulas
There's your four main dye types, says someone to me pompously the same foppish young man who has been six weeks in the lab and he mentions Pigment dyes, Sulfur dyes, Reactive dyes, and Naphthols.
Actually there must be many more. The space for dye type on the dye formula sometimes contains Dyk. (Dykolite dyes plus Dykosol salts) or Cml. (don't know what that means). When we take the inventory, there are tubs of Pastes; tubs of Vat Dyes (possibly the best dyes we have, that is, the fastest), which may include Pigment, Reactive, and the special dyes used for synthetic fibers.
There are the Direct dyes (Directs) powders the sorriest dyes we have: not fast.
The Pigments are thick liquids. They are used for straight coloring, and they look more or less true to color.
The Sulfurs (ours have the trade mame Sodyesul the Southern Dyestuff Company's sulfur dyes and are sometimes used in conjunction with Sodyefide liquid) are a cheap dye: thin liquids, foamy, in 500-gallon barrels.
The Reactive dyes and Disperse dyes are used together, for mixed fibers. Naphthols are developed by Salts.
Are the Naphthols always on Machine 4? Yes, 3 sometimes. The Sulfurs are on either 4 or 5. The Directs are on 1, or sometimes on 5 or 3 never on 4 . . .
Sodyesul Liquid Blue 4GBCF is a deep mauve you might call it dusty black if you saw just the liquid, or bluish black if you saw the splash-marks on the floor, but the foam on it is touched with gold and rust. This is Blue 4GBCF as opposed to Blue RLPC, Blue GPC, Blue 8RCF, or Navy GICF.
All the sulfur dyes look blackish oily browns or dark colors of some kind (and are evil-smelling) but come true in water.
But as for the powders called Direct dyes: some look more or less like the colors of their names, which they produce on the cloth, but most are quite different. If you put a pinch in a cup of water, it comes true.
Chlorantine Black L (I've forgotten the rest of the formula) looks brown-gray. Intralite Chlorantine Fast Gray RLA looks darkish blue-gray.
Diazol Violet BLNA looks cool chocolate.
Acetate Blue BNN looks black-purple. Sirius Supra Blue FFRL CF looks smoky darkish blue. Niagara Sky Blue GB looks dark blue-violet. Intralite Fast Blue AGL looks deep purplish gray. Belamine Fast Turquoise LGL looks rich blue with only a tinge of turquoise.
Intralite Fast Green BLL looks light blue-gray. Green BG looks blackish violet. Solophenyl Green A-2GL looks earth green on the blue side, going in water to a darker richer yellower green.
Belamine Fast Yellow 4GL looks buff-yellow. Fastolite Yellow GKS looks dull yellowish khaki. Erie Yellow Y looks bright light orange. Bellechem Fast Yellow RLSW looks sultry orange. Intralite Fast Yellow RNLL looks dirty pink. Chlorantine Yellow RNLL also looks pink.
Erie Fast Orange CG looks deep purplish chocolate.
Acetate Red RB looks deep purple-chocolate. Red 8 BLN (forgotten its other name) looks dark brown.
Erie Catechine 3 G looks dark black-brown; produces a reddish-orangeish brown. I hadn't known of catechine as the name of a color. In England catechin (pronounced cattishin) is just a chemical. Here they pronounce it cat-shine and say it should be pronounced cattisheen.
Shade Sistine is made (this time, anyway) with Imperial Blue T22O (largest proportion) plus Sherdye Violet V3W plus Hiltaspurse Black KR.
Shade Gold: Chlorantine Yellow RNLL with touches of Erie Catechine 3G and Solophenyl Green A-2GL.
Nile Blue: Acramine Yellow FGRN with touches of Hiltasperse Black KR and Imperial £reen 12.
The cloth mixture Avril/Avlin. Avlin is a synthetic fiber and is dyed with Resolin and Sodyecron dyes. Avril is made from wood and is pretty close to cotton, and Dykolite dyes are put into the same mixture to dye it. Dykolite dyes are thiocondensate dyes. The Dykolite dyes here were Dykolite Yellow 3G and 4G. In powder, the second of these does look strong yellow, but the other looks deep brown. The combination of all this made the green shade called Celery.
Another time the cloth is Avril/Avlin, the finish is Poplin Precured Dur. Press 2/3 % Preshrunk, and the shade is to be Avocado Leaf. This is made with Sodyecron Yellow-Brown RLS, Resolin Yellow C-6GL, and Resolin Green CFGS (these are disperse dyes, for the Avlin part of the fiber), Sodye Yellow BRCF, Sodye Green NYCF, and Sodye Yellow YCF (sulfur dyes, for the Avril).
A mixture of 50% Polyester (much like cotton) and 50% Rayon Twill (synthetic). Into the second pad of the machine, for the rayon, goes Sodye Black 4GCF, plus Sodyefide B or sulfide flakes. Into the first pad, for the polyester, goes Foron Black OB, plus Barrisol BRM, Super Clear, and Halltex solution. Foron is a disperse dye; this one is brown as a powder, looks khaki in the tank, and leaves the cloth looking brown, though the end result is black.
The universal white cloth bits of it are used for almost everything:
To blow noses.
Copious piece stuck in back pocket to wipe hands on.
Cleaning our hands and arms and boots and aprons and faces at the end, pouring bleach onto the cloth and then rubbing with it.
Drying after this.
Cover over the bowl where we keep iced lemonade, made with Kool-Aid packets which we buy.
Tablecloth over a barrel for resting this bowl, a dipper, icepick, cups.
Strainer over a barrel (clipped onto it with a rim) when pouring into it certain types of dye.
Strainer bag at the end of the pipe conveying a salt into a tank.
Similar bag, but full of a powder, on the end of a nozzle so that water will be forced through it.
Strips torn to use as string, for instance in tying these bags onto the pipes.
Wrapped around a broom to stir certain tanks and scoop impurities out.
Aprons, which the men make periodically for themselves. The cloth is preferably some that has a white rubber backing, which is worn outwards. The strings around neck and waist are strips of cloth. The holes for the string are cut by taking a pinch in the cloth and cutting off the end of it with a penknife.
Even shirts, with torn edges, stitched up in a few minutes on one of the little sewing-machines beside the dye-machines.
Even tying parts of the dye-machines together!
Hanks thrown into the cloth, rolling up as it comes out at the end of the machine, to mark places.
We usually have a roll of the cloth, slung under Doug's writing-surface in the drug room, so that we can tear pieces off whenever we need them. The cloth seems so essential for work, I assumed it was officially supplied, but no: Someone hooks it for us.
Cloth types: cotton; Rayon; 50% Polyester / 50% Hi Wet Modulus Rayon; etc. No wool, silk.
Finishes: Good Smooth Calendered; Std. Meaty Hand & Fin. . . .
Chemicals: Acramin Binder; Sodium Metasilicate Pentahydrate Uniflo Grade-26; Sherdye Padding Emulsion; oxalic acid; Aerotex Accelerator No. 5; chrome (bichromate of soda); Polyterge, i.e. Poly Tergent J-400 surfactant . . . Accowet K 2 Some people calls it Iccowet, with a 'i', but it's Accowet actually Icowet K is a different substance, you can see both of them mentioned on one form. Anti-Foam, like gluey milk, a gallon or so of it will knock off the mounds of carved, angular, reptilian, coruscating, iridescent foam that forms on a sulfur dye mix, thus destroying much beauty of the kind that is caught in photographs of polluted waterways. Superclear told, before dipping it out of its barrel, to wet the dipper in a barrel of another brown syrupy liquid next to it, otherwise hit'll never stick to your dipper; I couldn't figure out what this meant, since if I got the dipper under the liquid, the liquid necessarily stayed in it by gravity; secretly I tried the dipper in Superclear without wetting it first, was disappointed of seeing the Superclear fly out.
Rapidase, for de-sizing: I immediately saw the anagram with Paradise and rhyme with Happy-Days and in letters stencilled on its side it was mis-spelled as Rapadise.
At cleaning-up time, Allyn sometimes dips his arms above the elbow in Duponol, one of the white liquids.
The men stand looking at the dye formula as it hangs on a clipboard, the dye meanwhile made up and running the formula is the history of a third of an evening, or more.
Dye Formula No. l348 (or 1391 . . . ). Lot 98008; length 9,995 yards. (Or Lots 99271 and 99271-A, length 3,606 and 6,396 yards.) Dye Std.: Sple. 99196-Al (or 95232). Construction: 48 80x8O (48 inches wide, 80 threads per inch in both warp and weft). Finish: S/444 Perm Press. Preparation: B( )M( )P(XX)G( ). (I don't know what this means.) Original Run (the first time this dye combination has been used) or Re-Run. To be dyed on Mch. No. 3. Type of fiber: Cotton/Rayon. Dye type: Dir. Shade: Green.
And then the main part of the dye formula tells us how to make this green: l3.00 pounds of Chlorine Yellow RLSW, 6.30 of Intralite Blue 3FLL, and 1.10 of Erie Fast Orange CG 150%; and along with these dyestuffs, some chemicals 20 pounds of Halltex, 40 pounds of Urea. All this is in 150 gallons of water, that is, in a tank of 25 notches. And from the total of yards (3,606 plus 6,396) Doug knows that we will have to do this tankful three times over since 40 gallons of dye does about a thousand yards. And the mix is to be at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
There is a space for Dumpage from pad from tub cost. Finally, the instructions for the men on the machine: Dip in 2 R pad steam unit lst. box Salt 2-3-4-5-6-&-7 cold wash, 8th. Wicafix HC. & Salt. Or Dip in 2 R pad Red Ray, 8 dry cans. 2 dips in 3 R pad, steam unit, 3 Warm washes, 1 oxid. box 5 & 6 soap, 7 & 8 hot washes. Cut pad box 4 gals. chg. water. Or Dip in 2 R pad hot flue dry cans, sky thru steamunit couple in 3 R pad, lst. box cold, 2nd box cold, 3rd. box hot wash, 4th. & Sth. soap, 6th. hot wash, 7th. box cold wash. Cut 2 R pad 4 gals. chg. water.
I: What does this mean, 'Sky thru sky rolls'? Doug: Sky rolls they're supposed to go all the way up to the ceiling. To Allyn: Have you ever seen any sky rolls on them machines? Allyn jokingly indicates the sky. Doug: I don't believe they've got no sky rolls in this plant.
Drug room (again)
In the drug room, somebody has clipped and stuck up the last paragraph of the company handbook:
A PARTING WORD
Abney is proud to have you as an employee. The company wants you to be happy in your work with Abney and to understand the extra benefits which are yours.
and added: SETTING ON A CAN.
Scrawled in chalk on the bricks:
DO NOT SPILL THESE
CHEMICAL IN THE FLOOR.
A typed notice:
Notice ALL DRUG CLERKS
1. Stir All Liquid Colors good on each weighing.
2. Weigh All Colors Exactly.
3. Mix and Make up all Dyes and Chemicals exactly like Formula's.
4. All Drug Clerks will be held responsible for his (8) eight Hour Shift.
OR HER added by hand.
The sulfur-dye barrels are kept on their sides on raised rails along the side of the drug room ten of them, then a gap, then the other ten. I go down with the barrel-truck to fetch a certain sulfur dye from the warehouse. The barrel-truck is a type of heavy iron dolly. There is a technique of getting its toes under the barrel. Then you lift a mobile tooth and snap it onto the rim of the barrel. A barrel with a large weight of liquid in it is unmanageable tends to throw you over unless you're rough with it. Bring it up on the elevator. Take the barrel along to the gap, let it fall so that it is partly on a concrete skirt or step along the base of the wall. Thus it is off vertical, and you can tip it over. But first fix a tap in the top of the barrel (which is to become the end). Now let it fall on a thick mat of some black unidentifiable material, which is first placed underneath. Overhead is a rail, on which rides a power block-and-tackle: tug this along to the barrel, fasten its chains around the barrel. Press the electric button to hoist the barrel, tug it along to the place from which the empty barrel has been removed, lower and unchain it.
Pipes: bewildering or ignored at first. Some give themselves away as salt-pipes because of salt growing from their joints. Others as steam pipes because of the wisps of steam lingering near them, the hum, and being hot to the touch. By a joint which leaks slightly, there is a sort of rapid recurrent black blush: it is a drop of water which escapes, wets a patch of metal, and instantly evaporates.
The loudest noise is when a steam pipe is turned on to heat water in a tank (or, at milder pressures, to stir it). Grinding roar. Closer, it sounds as if the nozzle is a gun firing gravel into the tank.
The steam is also fired into buckets to heat the water there. Even if a bucket looks clean, the water in it now goes yellow, or another color, revealing the small amount of coloring matter that was in it.
A tap out of which steam and water are running at the same time, to heat the water, bounces up and down and jogs from side to side, like the beak of a pecking hen. It will gradually migrate to one side, pouring water out of the basin, if you don't correct it. Another nozzle ends in a large nut, so that it can be extended downward by a piece of piping to stir a can on the floor, and this nut can sometimes be seen slowly migrating up or down its thread, because some steam is coming through.
When steam is left on full, and the liquid it is bombarding creeps up to the boil, the rattling amplifies, till square waves appear all over the surface. And in neighboring tanks, a much finer mesh of ripples reminiscent of clear plastic wrap crinkling in a fire appears first around the edges and next to half-submerged pipes, while the rest of the surface is still unruffled.
Then the bombarded tank, and those near it, begin to shake, causing a vibration in the iron platform you are standing on. This eases some tiredness out of the feet.
Dipping a thermometer (in wooden casing) into a tank to see when it reaches 160 degrees. There is a buzz, transmitted to the hand, as the thermometer touches the shivering water.
We have tipped half a bag of Urea Prilled in: That urea's what makes it slow. It's like tipping that much ice in.
Looks like a mauve-white fire is flickering out of a tank on platform 3. A little man is standing inside the tank, with a welding helmet on his head, and his head down between his knees, welding a crack in the bottom. Two other tanks have the same kind of crack. Each tank stands, virtually, on its outlet pipe, and when the steam shakes the tank, the join to the outlet pipe eventually fails.
Curiously I peer in at the wrong moment, have a spot on my eye for an hour afterwards. Evidently the crack goes right through: some of the welding smoke is coming out underneath as well as above. Allyn: Don't stand in that stuff, it can give you a headache to kill.
The little welder emerges and takes his big gray helmet off. He looks like a yellow monkey in an eighteenth-century sweatcap.
There is another door down at the far end of the drug room; it opens more quietly (besides being farther off), the only clue to it being an increase in noise from the machines outside; and so I sometimes find other people in the room when I thought I was alone. At first I had difficulty understanding who works in the drug room and who doesn't. But most of these people who come in by the far door are men on the machines, because they have to do some of the making up of their mixes for themselves. (I don't know why.) On the dye formulas, besides the main spaces for Dyestuff and Chemicals and Salt and Chemicals, there is a third place down in a corner for just Chemicals, and these are what the machine men are making up; they go into the machines at other points beyond the two pads. For instance, when the dye process being used is Naphthol that is, Naphthol is going into the first pad and a Salt into the second then the chemical going in farther along may be soda ash with Iccowet K and liquid caustic. The machine man is making this up in a tank on the rear side of the platform, next to the tank where the salt is coming in from downstairs, while on the front side of the platform are the two tanks where the naphthol dye is being made up alternately. The Iccowet K makes the chemical mix froth up,three feet or more above the top of the tank: a cloud-like, coarse, cellular, dry foam. You can see lights and pipes through the thinner piles of it, and going close you can blow holes in it.
One of the apprentice-types, sent up from the machines from time to time with buckets to make up these chemical mixes, is a young fellow with cross eyes, tattoos, and his cigarette packet always twisted into the shoulder of his T-shirt. Passing, he decides on a grin and on saying: D'you think you'll like this job?
Dancing on the cloth
Bleach, Dye and Finishing are the core of the mill which is itself variously known as a bleachery or Abney Mills' finishing-plant. A lady who used to live in Gerald Griggs's house but whose husband now works for Union Bleachery says to me: Don't call it a mill, it's a bleachery. Bleachery folks think they're a cut above ordinary weaving-mill folks.
Cloth generally travels the route Bleach-Dye-Finishing, though there are variations: cloth that has been Finished elsewhere may come to be Dyed, or cloth after being Bleached and Finished may go somewhere else to be printed instead of being Dyed at all.
Around these main functions, separated by walls and doors in the same loose building, are the offices, and the Put-Up Department (perhaps officially called something like Dispatching) where cloth is graded and put in boxes and loaded onto trucks. The warehouses are slightly more loosely connected, and the boilerhouse stands off by itself.
A railway runs in, between the boilerhouse and one of the warehouses. It's a branch of the single-line railway that comes north from Greenville to Traveler's Rest, dipping into the woods and level-crossing the roads and dipping into the woods again. One train a day comes along it, and comes off along the spur to the unloading platform of the mill warehouse. Only just beyond this spur, the line itself is blocked by a hurdle. Generations ago, it was to have been built through the hills to Cleveland in the Blue Ridge foothills, perhaps even through to North Carolina.
In the Bleach House, a work order is called a Kier Sheet and ends with a Kier Number. (Kier is an old word for a brewing- or boiling-vat.) The Kier Sheet has columns for Bale Number, Yardage, Mill, Lot Number, Gray Width, Count, Weight, Color, Singe.
And there are Gray Room Bale Slips attached to rolls of cloth.
Bleaches: Peroxide, Chloride . . .
In this department, the cloth is not stretched flat but bundled in rope-form. These great ropes, gray at first, are run in every direction overhead, mangled by rollers, slipping through hoops, criss-crossing at all angles, instead of running through long parallel machines as in other departments.
Finally the bleached cloth ropes about three of them at one time in different places pour vertically down into twenty-six square cans, which are compartments of a huge concrete tank. This tank occupies all one end of the Bleach department, up against the windows at the south corner of the mill. The compartments are twenty feet deep. Standing on tiptoe, I can look in and see damp cloth heaped at the bottom of some. It is like looking down on part of a large fresh cauliflower head. At first the cloth can pour in by itself, but as the compartment nears fullness the waverings of the cloth could make it spill over the edge. So a girl stands on it, caressing the rope down with her hands as it streams past her, and tramping or dancing on it with her feet as it builds in wrinkled piles under her. The girl is a rather heavy blonde in blue pants and a white shirt untucked at the waist. I go and peer in to see if she has bare feet like the people who press wine, but she has heavy rubber boots provided by the company for this job.
A man sitting on a canvas chair and watching this and other operations rises and says to me: Sit down, take a rest. Oh, no thanks it would be ridiculous. He's evidently the boss of the department. He speaks as if we are slight acquaintances, he must live in the district and have seen me around. He's a prim man with rimless glasses, receding chin, light brown slicked-back hair.
When I'm walking away from the mill in the darkness, he is behind me, I realize that it's his unfenced yard I walk through to get to the street. A spur of alley for cars to park in leads to the back of it, and beside this is a brick outline a foot or so high, the foundation of a former building. I ask him what it was, he explains in precise words that the company once operated a gas-station here, they decided to close it, he left it standing for a long time, hoping to make some other use of it, but eventually took it down. Grass grows in it, looks like a subdivision of his lawn his yard is otherwise all featureless mown lawn except for mulberry trees growing uncontrolled along one edge. He tells me: That girl lives over there just past where you're going, in the trailer park the girl who stands up on the cans.
Sometimes on Sunday afternoons the sound of old-fashioned songs comes from this man's house. His front door is open, a car is parked outside; I don't know whether he is playing the piano and singing in the mournful tenor voice, or has a musical guest, or it's all a recording. The Lost Chord (or something of that time and flavor) crosses the street and the Andersons' side-meadow to the farmhouse where Steven Anderson, professional musician, is trying to concentrate on Liszt. I ask him one time whether in his studio he can hear the performances of his neighbor; for answer he pulls a face.
Another part of the Bleach area: the roll-park. But rolls (A-frames) are also parked in available spaces all over the mill.
A day when Bleach is idle and almost deserted. I wander around. A machine a succession of great steel houses, rollers and the like, as in the Dye and Finishing machines is motionless but still warm and full of water, and out of it come twangs, or pings or even clanks. Are these the sounds of it easing itself, like floorboards in an old house? But they seem too many, and not slowing.
The cockroaches in the more aridly chemical parts of the plant must stem from Bleach. On top of the concrete wall beside the cans, there are some iron posts, around which have been wound the ends of cloth ropes. These knots swarm with cockroaches. Curious stationary scenes of, for instance, a daddy cockroach, a baby cockroach, and a middle-sized cockroach, standing at angles, partly astride each other, as if there is some family confrontation going on then you realize that they are just sucking the starchy moisture out of the cloth. Peering over, you see cockroaches running over the piled mass of the cloth below.
Another evening: I come across a funereal crowd of black rolls, all on their wheeled A-frames, standing in the Bleach area. No people are seen, but machines are running.
In Bleach, around the roll-park area, there works a huge old man, bear-like, encased in the usual flower-pot-shaped blue dungaree trousers with straps over his shoulders; his face is stubbly, ruinous, with blob nose and heavy eyes; I overhear him making a bitter joke with other older men. There is also the only hippie I've seen in the plant, small and thin, with pale face under blond hair which falls lankly down his shoulders; his shoulderblades stick out as he strains to push things; he justifies all the imagined sneers about looking like a girl, except for the up-and-down loping of his spindly legs as he hurries along. And I usually see these two together, most evenings, pushing a roll or cart; they come in through an archway, pass across my stage, and disappear, plodding side by side with their arms outstretched to the object they are pushing. The small hippie seems to be asking a question, and the old broken-down man, two feet above him, gives a fatherly reply.
Down a steep stair opening between the machines of the Finishing Department is the starch room, a picturesque cave pervaded by white flour. The man who works there, a bit like Dylan Thomas, is the only man allowed to work without a shirt. His pendulous hairy belly is fronted with white dust, but he keeps the curly red hair on his head free of it.
There ought to be some joke I could say I heard, about the Finishing Department (orgasm), but as far as I know (and I know only my own private life) I am the only one to have availed myself of it.
Carl (an official) took me to watch one of the machines, which applies a white latex backing to the cloth. They've only figured out in the last five years how to do this. This here is going to be used for curtains, it keeps the light out better, you see. The cloth and the white liquid meet as they disappear in between two rollers. The latex, coming from above out of a nozzle, spreads in a creamy standing wave across the cloth. Its flow is so flawless that there appears to be no movement whatsoever. Beyond the rollers, a white sea flows away, the sheet of latex on top of the cloth, to be dried.
Four parallel machines in the Finishing Department: cloth pours upward from a roller at the beginning into a little overhead house where something happens to it; then down in the form of a square waterfall. Then it is grabbed on each side by an enormous number of clamps, rushing along in a horizontal chain. Each chain is shaped like a racecourse: the clamps come rushing back, around a corner at the end, then rush along in the opposite direction holding the edge of the cloth. Thus, from a few paces off, you see a dizzying hurry of movement, two lines of clamps rushing one way, and two the other, with a general clattering railway noise.
Held by these clamps, the cloth runs into a steel house, a hundred feet long. There are doors along the sides, one of them is partly open, I step up to peer into the darkness, get a gust of the great heat inside.
At the other end, the cloth rushes out, still held by the two chains of clamps, which have stretched it wider, and which now release it, rounding the other end of their racecourse and rushing back into the steel house.
Here a man I take at first to be a Chicano is standing, checking this end of the machine, controlling switches, measuring the cloth to see that it has been stretched from 43 and a half inches to the correct 47 by its hot wet passage through the dark steel house. But he is a Cherokee. He tells me that he has an old recording of someone reading the letter of Private John Burnell to his grandchildren about the Trail of Tears; and that just after the civil rights leaders were murdered in Birmingham, Alabama, he and some other Indians drove school buses to an Indian school there, and were upset to find themselves treated the same way as blacks in that state.
Someone else tells me that the Cherokee's name is James Hornbuckle, but he himself tells me: Or Sonny, you can call me just Sonny, everyone calls me Sonny. How many Indians are called just Sonny! Sonny the halfwit son of the school board chairman at Rough Rock, Sonny Jim the Klamath rodeo champion.
In the canteen Sonny or James Hornbuckle tells me he doesn't like the kind of corn whiskey brewed from malt they let the corn kernels sprout, then use kernels and sprouts together it's too hot.
I ask him to teach me some Cherokee words. He teaches me shio c,io?] hello, downdedjidown [dãdédz#vidã?] What's your name?, shelegadu [s#vélegadu?] corn bread.
He doesn't understand when I ask him which part means corn and which bread, he escapes into joking with an old woman worker who has just come in, he's good at it.
The main warehouse floor, as you push a barrel-truck along its immense avenues, has a crackly sound-or-feel underfoot (hard to separate the senses) as if its boards are nailed to a substrate of straw. But it must be strong, since it holds up the barrels in their tons and the Hysters which carry them.
These Hysters, pick-up vehicles, have metal claws like lobsters; the brand-name suggests lobster and hysteria their hysterically rapid motions but perhaps all it's meant to suggest is hoist, highest, high-ster.
There are three or four Hysters, all driven by black men. These men have a fun job, and they seem to enjoy it; they are by themselves except when they choose to go among others, they are sitting down, they rush everywhere at top speed and easily exert mechanical power. But when I remarked to one of them You have a nice job he mis-heard me and answered Yes, it's a lousy job.
They so drastically save time and distance on corners and on barrel-moving operations that you feel you'd better be nimble to get out of their way; but they are just as good at stopping in a hairsbreadth. Allyn to me as I wheeled a barrel toward a doorway: Stop and look before you go through there those niggers'll run you over.
Snatched away in clouds
There is a high tin wall across part of the Bleach department; cloth, rapidly unrolling by itself from a roller, is snatched away in clouds and up through a hole in this wall, and away into the bleaching process.
At a right-angle to this is another wall. Next to this is a through alley that I often stroll along. Though it is one of the few uncluttered floor-spaces in the whole machine floor, there is hardly anybody ever there to observe me.
Next to this, the long parallel machines of the Dye department begin.
Each dye-machine is really a linear assembly of block-like parts: a pad (trough where the cloth passes through the dye), another pad, a series of hot tanks, and so on. There is narrow floor space between some; some are overhead, the cloth doubling back to pass into them; at the beginning and end are movable things that are just rolled up for the operation, the cloth unraveling off them and collecting onto them. But the whole impression is of one long forest of a machine, because of the stream of cloth threading in and out and up and down, and also the tangle of pipes and cables, which ascend from all the parts and mingle in the girders of the roof.
The dye-machines are numbered 1 to 5, but that doesn't quite match the situation.
1 is called the Pigment machine. It is a dyeing-machine, but used only for the Pigment dyes, and therefore shorter than the others, with no pad or box elements. In a space left at the head of it, there is the brine-tank.
Next comes a machine which has been so long disused that it has razor-backed caps of dust along all its rollers. Whether it is the disused Number 2 dye machine I'm not sure. Next to it comes another long and apparently disused machine, with all its roof taken off, and all its upper rollers too. But it has water in its troughs, and it is used and called Number 2 Machine, Wash and Dry. And in the spaces by the heads of these machines are two smaller ones, a Desize Padder and a Water Mangle.
Then come machines 3, 4, and 5, all called Continuous dyeing machines. Side by side, they form a thick long mass of bright lights and moving metal and steam, with men busy or socializing in the cavernous alleys between them. They are not unlike Underground Atlanta or some other noisy amusement arcade, or some tall clangorous trams lined up side by side in a deep black city street.
There is a machine called Number 6, Range, but it is in Finishing. They starch on it, but they also run a small amount of dye with the starch, and we make the dye up for them. I don't know what tank we send it from.
It takes three men to run one of the major machines one at the beginning, one at the end, one doing things along the side but only two on the Pigment machine, and two or one on the minor machines. Sometimes three machines are running, sometimes two, sometimes one. It's been years since they were all running. Hurting for help, they say.
After walking around Bleach and Finishing, I feel quite proud to turn back and see the dark tall forest of our three major machines: they fill the space up to the roof, indeed more solidly at the higher level, for at the floor there are the pathways through them; they are quite suggestive of a cathedral, a dense mystical one higher proportion of solid to air like Barcelona. The machines in the other departments seem paltry, perhaps because the cloth going through them is often still white, slack instead of under smooth tension, moving in ragged jumps instead of steadily, bunched up in ropes instead of in a flat perfect band.
A sewing-machine is stationed by the beginning of the dye-machine, an ordinary sewing-machine, on its own wheeled base or trolley. It is for rapidly sewing the end of a roll of cloth, which has almost finished going into the machine, to the beginning of the next roll, which thus follows it through.
There are five or six more of these mobile sewing-machines near other points among the great machines. I see one standing alone in a passageway where there does not seem to be a draught. But the white thread comes from two spools, passes up to the arms ef a T-shaped structure, and from there the two threads converge to the sewing-point; and these two threads stand in a constant curve, like the outlines of two bellying sails, revealing the air-current through the mill.
With these sewing-machines the men also make simple work-shirts for themselves out of pink pieces of cloth.
The beginning of a dye-machine:
From the A-frame that has been rolled into position, the cloth is snatched into motion by the first pair of rollers, and immediately beyond them is pressed down by a weighted sheet of cardboard and accumulates in the J-box. The name of this is descriptive enough: it is a metal slide into a metal cradle, with wooden sides. The cloth builds up in a deep mass of luxuriant crinkles. (Its end profile is a fine unicursal maze, like part of a cut cabbage.) Then the motion of rollers ahead snatches it off again, in clouds; but running, endless clouds.
After the J-box, the cloth reaches the first pad and plunges into the dye and up out again and between two rollers to squeeze the excess from it hence this is called the 2 R pad. The cloth passes back overhead, brown (or black or yellow or whatever color the dye has left it) in contrast with the white stream passing the other way underneath. Now it ascends into the Red Ray Box, high up near the back wall of the machine floor. The Red Ray Box is full of hot gas; the orange blaze of the interior shows through some apertures. The cloth is dried some more by running up and down between rollers in the Dry Cans. And then some more by running into the Thermosol or curing oven, which cures (sets) the dye at 420 degrees Fahrenheit. All these units are overhead; then the cloth stream is guided back downstairs into the second, or Three-Roller pad, not far from the first. After dipping into this second bath of dye it runs through a Steam Unit, and then through eight Wash Boxes, and then doubles back, overhead again, to run through two stacks of Dry Cans at 340 degrees. And finally it comes down to the A-frame waiting to gather it at the end.
Machines 3 and 5 have flow-raters, devices that cut off the flow of dye into the pads when the pads are full. As the dye is used up, the level in the pad sinks, the holes out of which the dye comes are uncovered, and the dye starts running in again from upstairs. But machines 1 and 4 don't have them. The operator has to cut off the dye when he sees there is enough. A greenhorn not realizing this would let the pad overflow and the dye run all over the floor.
On one of my strolls to see the machines, I wanted to see what the flow-raters look like, and whether they are spelled that way or Flow-Rator, Flowrator, Florater . . . I casually joined Joe and John, standing by their machine. Joe is a short man with balding black hair, warts, spectacles, a high-pitched voice; John has reddish sideburns and bulging eyes which he casts down in a way that at first glance makes him look hostile or shifty, but he is very good-natured, and grins in an individual way with his lower lip curling down. Joe asked me my age, and I asked what he thought it was, and said it was whatever he replied. Then he started on a line of conversation about how if you have a son when you're eighteen, by the time you reach thirty-six he will be half your age. There was a lot of noise, so that I could hear only fractions of what was said. The only thing clear was that five minutes later Joe was still on about this, as if it was something amazing; he would say No, really, your kid will get to be half as old as you are, and then look triumphant behind his glasses; after a short pause John, staring at him, would guffaw, and then look at me; and I was trying to keep up my grins in the same polite way as when the company is stoned on marijuana and giggling and there is nothing funny.
I tried to get the conversation onto the machine by saying What's this spilt on the floor, is it dye? but they didn't hear or didn't understand or thought it obvious or unimportant. When I could wander away without seeming odd, I went and looked for the flow-rater myself, but couldn't find it.
The scene inside the wash-boxes:
The band of cloth comes shooting up out of dark liquid, which is water (and some chemicals) stained with the dye coming off the cloth, and which still covers the cloth in a skin as it rushes over the roller. Then the cloth rushes back down into the liquid, up over the next roller. (In some of the eight boxes there are two rollers, in others three not counting the alternate rollers under the water.) Then the cloth rushes up a slope into the maw of a much larger squeezing roller. Foam squeezed out by this pours back down the slope till, losing impetus against the opposite motion underneath it, it collects in a standing moraine of foam. Occasionally, as the balance of the two contrary speeds shifts, part of this moraine spills over the edge onto the almost vertical part of the slope, but even then the upward-rushing cloth often manages to bring it to a standstill and push it back up. There is a third direction: the foam in the moraine also migrates, more slowly, up and down the moraine's curving boundary, toward the sides of the box. Total, a fantastic exchange of motions. To compound it, sprinkler jets pour onto the cloth diagonally from above so as to strike it just before it enters the squeezer. In the shiny convex side of the large roller are reflections of the sprinklers and of all the other wet shapes and movements below. All is traveling at considerable speed, and all is under the patchy glare of lights on the other side of the box. When the cloth emerges beyond the big squeezer, it is dry, and has its own color (green, while I was watching this) instead of the gleaming black when wet. Dry, it pours down into the next box, and the scene is repeated. The eight boxes are under a common roof, tent-shaped, a long tin tent.
Straps of motion in contrary directions, upward and downward, proceeding perpetually side by side:
The reaches of cloth running upward, alternating with the reaches of cloth running downward, all at the same rattling pace, all through the baths of the dye machine, glistening with the liquid as they shoot out of it and are inserted back into it.
The fountains in the pools at Furman University a few miles away, arranged in close forests, reaching about twenty feet into the air, the upward plumes of water, and the downward rains of water, intermingled.
A yellow dye is just finishing in a tank on platform 1 in the drug room. It's running out rapidly, they've finished dyeing the cloth on machine 1 and are dumping it from the pad that is, letting it drain from the pad into a concrete funnel in the floor under. But for some reason the line (pipe) remains full of dye, they can't get it out from there, they pump it back up into our tank, and we dump it from there. Meanwhile we are making up the next mix in the other tank on the platform. It's called Gold, really an orange, made with two kinds of yellow and a small amount of red. They don't have to clean their pad, the yellow was such a light mix, with only three pounds of dye in it; they would have to, if the Gold had been run first.
These are all Pigment dyes. Only Pigment dyes are run on machine 1. Whereas Sulfur dyes are sorry (not fast), can easily be stripped if necessary, and are made fast only by the Finishing process, Pigment dyes are fast from the start You can't hardly strip it (sometimes you have to, if the dye was wrong or too heavy). That is why there is only one pad on machine 1 the second pads, on the other machines, are for second liquids that set the first. After its pad, machine 1 is all overhead, consisting of an infrared box, two stacks of ten hot rollers each with steam inside, and a steel box as long as a railway carriage, heated by gas flames. All these heat the cloth, but the infrared is for curing the dye, whereas the hot rollers and the gas-heated chamber are for drying the cloth it runs through so fast that there has to be a great length and strength of power applied to drying it.
We have made our dye up, but three hours elapse before the machine men are ready to start the next lot of cloth. I stroll in the empty space under the machine, the soace which in the other machines is occupied by the boxes (baths of water). Johnny beckons me up a ladder onto the gallery, where he is cleaning dye off the rollers with sandpaper; I operate the jog switch to present him with another surface. This is in spite of the comparative cleanness of the yellow dye. Only a few of the lower rollers in the stack are stained, I can't see why. A curious pattern of steam pipes connects the ends of all the rollers.
The infrared is on pilot. Below, there is a rotating green-ink automatic graph, showing its temperature through twenty-four hours; the nib swoops low, as now, or makes a thick band of vibrations astride 350 degrees, marking the hours when the cloth was running. The gas flames are shooting into the other oven, a vertical row of them in the middle of each side. They have to be put out quickly, by pulling a cord, if there is a breakout or if for any other reason the cloth stops in the middle of a run, otherwise they would burn through it in a matter of seconds; but they don't burn the narrow nylon tape which at present is all that is threaded through the machine.
I still haven't seen them threading a machine; I imagine them crawling through the hot boxes, dipping under the rollers which are in the water . . . I asked Carl how long it takes, he said About all day. Johnny says an hour and a half. They have to rethread after a breakout, at least if they haven't cut the machine off quickly enough; but do they have to thread anew for some runs of cloth, or does the cloth always take the same route through the machines? If so, it is enough to attach tape to the end of one run, then attach the next run to the end of that tape.
A break-out is when the cloth, going through the machine, tears across, and if you don't see it and stop the machine quickly you are going to have to thread it again (a three-hour job).
I know it ain't growed
Asked at the beginning whether I wanted to work five days or six, I had chosen five. However:
Forty-hour week of 3-to-ll. Then we were told we all had to work on Saturday, another 3-to-ll shift. Then four hours on Sunday morning, 7 to ll, to do an inventory. Then Monday, which was Labor Day, we worked the mill always works on Labor Day, national holiday though it be. At least we got double pay for that. I got no more than normal pay for the other extra days, because, having started work on a Tuesday, I had not done forty hours in the week.
(I was also asked to help move a school on the Saturday morning, and it took right up till 3 when I had to go back to work.)
We were to take the inventory on Sunday, but actually did most of the work on Saturday, when we were also working extra time, supposedly because of increased productivity.
Doug and I weighed, estimated and guesstimated the dyestuffs and chemicals in the drug room. First the sulfur dyes in their 500-pound barrels lying on their sides: it would have been too much labor to hoist each on the crane and weigh it, so Doug judged how much was left in each by a combination of dipping a pipe in through the bunghole, and lifting one end of the barrel and shaking it. I followed him, writing 255# or the like on the top end with a very fat piece of chalk. # is American for British lb; sometimes it's reduced further to an underlining. Though they know the word chalk, they usually call it white Fetch us some more white, Nelson, we've broke all ours, even though the chalk we were using was yellow. American uses chalkboard for what British calls a blackboard even if is green. Some teacher (born I'm not sure where) might say Take the white and write on the blackboard, meaning Take that yellow chalk and write on that green chalkboard.
Then we did the liquid pigment dyes, first taking out the stirring-paddles and dipping-saucepans which stood or hung ready in them and leaving these to clean under a cataract of hot water (or caustic, if they were particularly obstinate). We pushed the weighing machine into each aisle and weighed the barrels, unless they were nearly but not quite full of liquid, in which case it was dangerous to tip them in order to get them onto the weighing machine. Rather than go to the trouble of fixing their rims back on (the metal bands with tightening levers, which make the lids secure) we guesstimated. Then, the other miscellaneous barrels in these aisles or on shelves.
On Sunday, clerical types came around and while one called out the numbers I had written, the other entered them on the inventory sheets, which he had stapled out on a long board. I noticed that he had eight sheets for Vat Dyes, two for Directs, two for Naphtols (sic), and one for Sulfurs. But we meanwhile were downstairs weighing the barrels in a warehouse. There were five of us now, far too many for the job. Since I could subtract (slowly) in my head, I was told to be the adding machine, and when the weighing machine said 204 and the tare (the weight of the barrel and lid) was l7 pounds, I called out l87 and someone else chalked this on. Some barrels have their gross weight, tare, and net weight (when full) stated on them, sometimes in the form G.509 T.9 N.500, more often only the gross and net are given and you have to do a first subtraction sum to get the tare; very often the label has gone, or the stencilled figures on the side have been rubbed off by long use, and you make a guesstimate an informed one, since many barrels are of similar types.
At first Doug had given me a pencil and some paper the backs of old inventory forms so that I could do the figuring. My doing it in my head was due not to better education, as they thought, but to coming from Britain with its non-decimal coinage. Anyway, it was the reason why we finished the process in well under the four hours we were working, instead of running into the afternoon as sometimes happens.
If the weight came out to 99 pounds and the chalkmark from the last inventory, still visible, said 96, Doug said: Leave it at 96. I know it ain't growed.
We ended in a small lockable storeroom which belongs to Robert. Weighed his boots, which were sitting on a shelf; wrote 2# on the toes. The two clerks had caught up with us, and while Clerk One went off for a time, Doug called the weights out and Clerk Two finished entering them. Clerk One returned and began crouching and twisting his head to find the labels, and calling out: Indanthrene Red GCFC... They let him do this two or three times over, before he noticed that everybody was just standing watching him. Why aren't you writing it down? We done tuck it. You shit-asses!
(That's the usual badword. Once Allyn defined an indefinite group of people as cocksuckers for keeping a door locked which is the shortest way out of a warehouse. Never do you hear Christ! or God! or Jesus!)
The inventory is taken every three months. It it never matches the amounts that should have been left, according to the drug reports sent in by Doug every day, and when the discrepancy is too great some barrels have to be weighed again. It would be better to take the inventory just once a year and do it carefully it's too big a nuisance to do very carefully very often.
Stylized woman in chalk on a chalkboard in a small storeroom for dyes:
Allyn, as we take a mixture of dye made by Doug and tip it in the tank: See what happens when someone's careless? Old Nelson made a mistake writing the formula, so we've got to do it all over again. I: They ran some cloth and it was wrong? Too hee-avy.
But most of that evening we had nothing to do. Various explanations given: eleven men had quit. Or, Well, it's happened again, the roller in the pad in Number 3 has stuck, and they've got to clean it out. Easy on us because we didn't have to send any dye down till the machine was running again.
Yet I was asked to work overtime. Perhaps it was a kindness to me rather than because I was needed. The Third Shift seemed a ghostly shift of half-alive men, as might be expected of those who work or at least inhabit a factory through the night and sleep till five or six in the afternoon (which is what they say they do). I was apparently replacing Charley, the young black helper of the man, E.R. Smith, who always arrived well before eleven to let us go. But Charley arrived, an hour late. Then I was to show him how to make the salt mix. He had been working here six weeks longer than me, but hadn't done this task before. But when I found the barrel of the salt we needed, Red 3 GL, there wasn't enough left in it for the 80 pounds we needed. So we walked for more than a mile, I pulling the barrel truck, through dim warehouses where I had never been, looking for Red 3 GL. It was obvious we would never find it, but I realized that Charley enjoyed wasting time. When we came out on a far concrete platform beside where the trucks draw up, he got onto a Hyster and tried to start it, so as to ride back on it, but it wouldn't start. We got back and told E.R. Smith and the supervisor, a round young man called S.C. Anderson, that there was no 3 GL. They too set off in quest of it. Machines were running, and strange people would appear from time to time around corners, pushing wheeled things or lost on some other business of their own, but all the posts that I had come to think of as essential ones, where people had to be, were deserted. At last the supervisor reappeared and told me that, though it was only 12:30, I could go and he would count it as three hours.
Perhaps worse than making people work on Saturdays or other holidays, when they might have planned to do something else, is making them sometimes work only a four-day week. Paid by the hour, they lose money, which they might have been committed to using for the rent or hire-purchase payment.
Someone comes around on Thursday and says We're working Friday or We're not working Friday. If they don't work Friday, then those who have worked any overtime during the week lose the overtime pay they would have got for it because you only get time-and-a-half for hours in excess of the forty that are supposed to be the normal week. In view of this, I decided not to work overtime if asked again, any night except Friday.
Sometimes the mill has even worked three-day weeks. But that was mostly during the recession of l97l; and four-day weeks are mostly, for some reason, at the beginning of the year.
Doug and me alone in the drug room most of the evening; Doug asleep much of the time, on the barrel top where he sits next to his desk surface. I have nowhere to sit except on top of the rolling barrels of sulfur dye. Is Allyn sick? no, I see him sitting glumly downstairs in the smoking-pen. He's been assigned to work on a machine. Working on the machines is one of the many things he says he will have no part of. Four men are short on this shift. Are they sick? No, they musta quit.
All the familiar men are here, the gone ones must be junior, including the youth who said sarcastically to me D'you think you'll like working here?
Doug: All these plants round here are hurting for help. Fifteen years ago you couldn't walk into one of these plants and get a job. Now you can! It's because the industries that used to be up north came south to get away from the unions. Now there are too many of them and not enough labor.
And serve them right. Someone else a manager in a plastics industry told me that industries come south still, because the labor is cheaper, but find it isn't really cheaper, because workers come and go so much, quitting jobs when they've just been trained, and that works out more expensive.
A way to get more and steadier labor might be to pay a bit more. And to offer people a hope of promotion and security.
Yet the workers here seem satisfied. They haven't known anything better.
Every house in the district receives a notice, mailed to the Occupant, that the Milliken company's Judson Mills, on Easley Bridge Road, IS NOW INTERVIEWING APPLICANTS WHO SEEK STEADY EMPLOYMENT, HAVE GOOD ATTENDANCE PATTERNS AND WHO WANT: 1. WORK CLOSE TO HOME 2. OVERTIME OPPORTUNITY 3. FULLY AIR CONDITIONED . . . etc.
A sign that has been put up at several places: NEED A JOB / WINDER TWISTERS DOUBLER TENDERS / NEEDED . . .
Doug, a vigorous old man but stiff for bending and walking, has to go up and down the iron stair three times as often as anyone else, to get working orders, or check on the strength of the dyes (in case they have to be remade), or check how many yards of cloth are left to run (in case we have to make up more mixes).
Doug has to know that, for instance, a dipperful of Wicapad 2G-23-M is 4.8 pounds whereas a dipperful of Rhoplex HA-l2 is 5 pounds; that one pound is 454 grams; that Laureltex 802-A is the same as Barrisol BRM, Dykosol Green 3BT is the same as 5BT, and Solephenyl Green A264 is a substitute for Olive Green EGLL. He has to deal with the differing weights of (and hence amounts of dye needed by) about l70 cloth types, such as 48-inch-wide 96x72 (threads per square inch) Kodel/Cotton . . .
Actually these items are from lists on the wall, but I think Doug knows most of them.
Doug sometimes wears a mask while weighing and mixing his powder dyes, so as not to get too much up his nose. But his temples and the edge of his thick short gray hair are blue at the end of a day of blue dye. And I find my nostrils blue-lined.
Doug to me: Well, d'you think you'll like this job enough to stay? . . . One place, the man said to me, 'You won't quit, will you?' I said, 'I wouldn't take a job I couldn't quit.' I believe he tore m'application up and threw it in the trashcan. That place folded the next year; I was glad to see it.
My wife says that at the plant where she works, at Slater, they measure the noise-level in each room, and if it's above a certain level they give them earplugs. At that rate we'd all of us have earplugs here!
In answer to my questions he told me that the place where his wife works is a fiberglass factory (that is, making fiberglass cloth). Their shifts are 8-4-12. She works on the first shift. I: So you hardly ever see each other? No. We do it so that there's always one of us with the children, when it's not school time.
Allyn has a headache much of the time.
On first coming in and strolling past me, he makes a friendly gesture like this: he clenches his right fist and does a kind of slow punch through the air, not towards me but past me and close to his body, his forearm being parallel with the floor. It derives not from the punch but from the walk: a kind of emphasized arm-swing during the step of the left foot. I've seen it before, its meaning is familiar though hard to place in words: something like Let's carry on! or Back on the job! or Here we are again, let's go on together!
Or he says: Well, what d'you think about it? Only said at moments, like this of arrival, when there is as yet no definite it to have any opinion about. Making any serious reply would be quite unexpected.
Another moment when Allyn wakes up expressively, to the point of smiling and speaking without strict necessity, is when Doug has just made up the lemonade. I fetch ice up from the ice-room, Doug washes it and puts it in a dipper and breaks it up with an ice-pick and puts water with it and adds the contents of two Kool-Aid packets. Allyn after a while no hurry takes his cupful of it, rolls it around his mouth, grins, strolls back making his comment for the day sometimes Shit and sometimes A good run.
A good run term of the trade. A run is a unit of our work, say 81,000 yards of cotton/rayon passing through machine 5 and dyed with sulfur dye, and the tankfuls of this dye made up for this job by us. It's a good run if we made the dye up right and the job gets done in as short a time as we hope.
Eddie Leeds wi' them buckets
Carl brought a fellow called Nelson Looper to me, who said: I hear you do some painting? I: How did you know that? It turned out that on the application form there had been a space for hobbies; most people don't bother to fill it in, but I had thought I must write something, and had rashly put painting. So Nelson Looper said: Would you paint a sign for me? HORSES FOR SALE.
I was eating my sandwich; Allyn said Hep yoursef to one of these peppers here! Four or five long thin curly green peppers, lying on Doug's work-surface. This work-surface is covered with brown paper. Later, in an idle period, I picked up Doug's pencil and drew the peppers, life-size, on the paper beside them. There was a piece of the yellowish chalk with which we had been marking barrels during the inventory, so I used it to mark some highlights, though it was too thick.
Allyn saw this sketch and broke into great grins. When the officials (Carl and Elbert) came in with dye-formulas, he hooked his finger at them and, grinning, showed them the sketch of the peppers. I was afraid they would be displeased at our wasting time. One of them said to me: Did you trace it? I didn't know how to answer; I was trying to visualize what he meant perhaps he thought I could in some way have sprayed around the peppers.
One of the machine-men from downstairs, Joe, came with a large sheet of brown paper, which he had carefully folded. It was from the wrapping of a roll of cloth; he wanted me to draw him, or one of these boys (Doug and Allyn). He pretended not to be serious. I muttered that I might like to but there might not be time just then Elbert came around again and Doug looked nervous.
After ten, nearly the end of the shift: I had been responsible for the salt-and-caustic tanks all evening and had finished with them, Allyn and I were standing with nothing to do and had in fact already washed up (our gloves and our hands). Allyn suddenly came out of his usual glum stance with one foot up on a barrel, and said Here, draw this: he fetched out another pepper, slightly larger, and watched while I drew it. Then, shyly grinning, he asked whether I could draw him. I certainly wanted to draw his foot-up-on-barrel attitude, I drew very rapidly on the piece of brown paper that Joe had brought. I realized, before I had gone far, that whereas I was enjoying drawing a blocky sculptural form, with great wide crumpled work clothes and magnificent thick forearms, Allyn was expecting a portrait. The door opened behind him, I looked to see who it was, and discovered that Allyn, whatever anxiety he felt about that, was maintaining his rigid heroic face. I hurriedly outlined his head. Result, a simplified head which happened to look handsome in an empty way, whereas he was ugly in a full way (I mean his craggy lifeworn reality was much better). When he saw the picture he broke into great gap-toothed smiles. He was really very tickled, and was never his dour self again. Crowds gathered to admire while I stood looking sheepish. I was conscious that it didn't show either the blocky form of the man and clothes and attitude that I had wanted to draw, or the likeness of Allyn, and I said in Doug's ear I've made him look younger. Doug said He won't mind that. Allyn meanwhile was crowing: They all knowed who it was, I didn't have to tell them 'That's old big-ass!' they said. He was going to pin it up on the wall, but I pleaded that either he or I take it home, so he took it home.
Next evening Allyn asked me to draw, on the same kind of brown paper, a house, with a porch in front of it; a door in the middle; a window each side of the door; a black-gum tree to the right; with four beagles nn the lawn; and himself standing there, with his rifle.
I tried, but very soon it seemed easier (though not easy) to try to explain to him that I can draw what I see. If I drew a rectangle and said Kind of . . . this shape? he just said Yes, yes! The nearest he came to helpful detail was when he said that the blackgum grew up through the fork of a larger white oak, though even that I couldn't quite visualize. I would have loved to be able to draw, or rather paint, the kind of primitive picture he had in mind. I said it would be easier, if some time I was able to go there, to sit for a few moments in front of the house and draw it. He said he would come in his car and take me there one morning. I said that would be fine if I was awake, at this stage the mill was still making me very sleepy. He said he had a piece of nice smooth plywood that I could paint on.
Eddie to Allyn: You're not a bachelor? I don't believe it! You're too grouchy to be a bachelor! I thought so too, but Allyn wanted me to draw him and his house, rifle, and beagles, no mention of wife.
Alvin, supervisor of the Finishing Department, came to me, provided, like the others, with a piece of paper and a pencil. Are you the one who can draw? will you please draw something for me? My friend wants to add a piece to his house . . . At length I was able to understand that the house is now like this:
and he wants to add onto it not like this:
but like this:
I did a drawing like that and he took it away satisfied. They wanted to visualize the roof.
I began to see how they could regard even a slight ability to draw as awesome; trying to get the facts of the house, I drew a rectangle and said This is the ground-plan, is it? looking down from above? He said Yes, yes, ground-plan . . . But then, telling me that the new roof-ridge was to come out at right-angles from the middle of the old, he put his finger on the middle of the farther line of the rectangle and moved it back vertically upward from the paper.
The dimensions of the existing house are 30 feet by 15 feet. A couple of days before, going for a walk, I had noticed a house almost exactly like a trailer, with a support of breezeblocks just the same as they often put under trailers. Many people around here are accustomed to living in trailers, often beside a relative's house, and when they move into a house they make it on the plan of a trailer. Vestigial designing, like the clay pots which look like rope baskets.
Drawing with a pencil on which is printed COMPLIMENTS BANK OF TRAVELERS REST and the entire Travelers Rest High School 1972 football schedule.
101,047 yards of cotton twill, dyed on Machine 5 with Foron Black OB powder and Foron Black OB paste, and then scoured on the washer with Seyco Solvent CB, Sandopan CPE, and Polyterge J-400; I made up the tank of water with a dash of Polyterge soap in it, and kept a watch on it, but by the end of the evening it had hardly more than half run out.
So I was pacing up and down the drug room aisle, because I had some ideas and was in the grip of them and kept feeling myself almost on the point of saying I'm going now, I have something I want to do. This was a desperate sensation. The main idea this time was to make a book called simply Children out af a series of items. Realizing that it was odd to keep pacing up and down, I leaned on Doug's desk (no one else being present except at the far end of the room) and scribbled a list on the back of one of the old inventory sheets, kept there in a pile for Doug to do his figuring on them. I didn't need to make a list, all I needed to do was to get to work writing, this activity was only a use for my fingers. Allyn was approaching, I scribbled in Arabic instead (Arabic letters spelling English sounds) so that it might look like mere doodled lines. Then when Allyn arrived (just to get his cigarettes, or look at the time, or put his foot up on a barrel and stand in his usual resting attitude) I hid the paper and pretended to be idly drawing on a length of cloth (couldn't lay my hand on another bit of paper quickly enough).
I drew Allyn's left arm, leaning on the desk. He half saw it and said nothing. Then he grinned and said: Draw old Eddie wi' them buckets. Eddie, the big boy, was approaching along the same aisle with a bucket from each gloved hand. Though he shuffled slowly (the poor young man seems half lame as well as half blind and sadly fat and with a speech impediment and a frustrated longing to succeed in his studies after eight years of spare-time classes) I only had time for a rapid sketch before he turned the corner and went down the stairs.
But Allyn made me wait for the next time Eddie came to fill his buckets. Then Allyn proudly showed my sketch to everyone. And they stared at it with uncertain smiles and made inept responses: as It looks like you except for the glasses (meaning Allyn) which sharply disappointed him. And he took it downstairs and came back to report that Everyone knowed who it was without me telling them! And somebody came and said Can I take that picture of Eddie? there's about fourteen women out there wanting to see it, Eddie's fan-club!
Then Mr. Elbert Cole came into the drug room on some pretext, but he was holding in his hand what looked like a sheet of paper stapled to a piece of card (carefully cut to the same size), and having finished speaking with Doug he took me aside and said Would you like thirty minutes off? He took me to his office so that I could draw a portrait of him. When his telephone rang he answered it as shortly as possible and kept his face stiff, and when people came in he gave them abrupt orders and sent them away as quickly as he could. What he had stapled to the card was a kind of sized cloth, bad to draw on especially as at first he gave me his propelling pencil with a thin hard point and it almost tore when I went over a line more than once. But he was pleased; he was a handsome man, and he said I want you to do a proper picture of me I mean in color, I'1l pay you, of course . . . and arranged that he would drive me to his house some time for the purpose. After that I had to draw his next-in-command, Carl. And Carl said he, too, would drive me to his house, so that I could do a proper colored and paid picture, not of him but of the house.
Allyn was listening to this, and I wanted to reassure him that I wouldn't want him to pay, I chose to say that I would charge anyone who wears a plastic name-tag on his pocket (meaning the higher-paid executive class). He didn't seem to understand me, I added: Anyone who works in an air-conditioned office. Allyn said: Air-conditioning's all right but it sure eats the pahr up.
Toward the end of the evening three people in turn, at Allyn's command, stood beside Doug's desk for me to draw them. I unobtrusively established a routine of their standing so as to present their profiles, because for the sake of my reputation or for the sake of not disappointing them, which was the same I had to get their likeness. Each one, as soon as the session began, stood taking no notice of the door opening behind him and the boss possibly coming in, or of anyone coming up behind him and teasing. They were all pleased, because my ways of drawing, when having to be careful, led to a bland, relatively lifeless and idealized portrait. I wanted especially to give a tolerably pleasing result without being noticeably dishonest for Eddie, who was the last. Like the others, but understandably more so, he wanted to be pressed to pose, wanted to avoid seeming touchy about what it would look like; he jokingly told me to leave out his stomach (as if I could have got it onto one of these little sheets of paper), said his best part was above his neck (even if his face, too, had not been very fat, his skull was massive), mentioned that he wanted his left profile because the sideburn on the right was thin; and he combed his hair. While he was posing, I noticed his head beginning to shake. That made me hurry, and I found afterwards that I had not corrected the proportion of the top of his head, which I made too high; and that with perhaps a very little judicious slimming of his jowl made him look more powerful and dignified than fat. I liked him and wanted to say to him that his face was far more interesting than those of the bosses downstairs. I could tell he was pleased, by the way he grabbed the picture and said Yes, it's just as bad as I thought! it's really baaad (speech impediment, he got stuck on vowels, not consonants as other stutterers) I've been growing that mustash for six months and you've made it like a bit of peach-fuzz! He held onto it and kept looking at it. He wondered what had happened to the original sketch of him shuffling along the aisle with the buckets, and they all stood conferring about what might have happened to it after it was sent for the admiration of the fourteen women. But I had got it back (folded in four) and didn't say so. I wanted to keep it; it was a better sketch, and more characteristic of the mill I had added some of the surrounding vats and barrels than all these portraits.
Allyn, the dumbest, meanest, most ignorant of the men, was, I believe, the only one who could actually appreciate a drawing. Though he, too, could only express himself about likeness They all knowed who it was! his gazing at a sketch for longer than he had to, shaking his head over it and grinning, showed that he saw the reasons for the lines.
I get to keep only those sketches they don't know I've made and those they see no point in of steps, barrels, pipes.
All are on the backs of the old Drug Report Forms, lines and lettering showing through.
Continuum of terms, in danger of overlapping: flask-bottle-jug-dipper-bucket-can-barrel-drum-tub-vat-tank-pad.
All these except the last are circular in cross-section and most are cylinders. And so are many of the other constituents of the plant: rollers in the machines; cardboard tubes on which the cloth is rolled; pipes; wires; even the shafts of agitators.
But buckets and dippers are truncated cones; rolls of cloth are spirals (spiral planes? spiral cylinders?).
The important things, about four feet high, on which the cloth is rolled, waits, is transported to the next machine, stands running out onto that machine, is rolled up again at the other end of the machine, waits again and is transported again: these things are called A-frames.
They consist of a wooden rolling-bar, two A's supporting it, wheels at the bottom of one A but not at the bottom of the other, so that it will stand still when left. To move it, you fetch another device, a jack, consisting of a metal ball supported by two little wheels and held by a long handle; you nod this so that the ball fits under a socket in the wheel-less end of the A-frame; you pull back so that the ball simply rises half an inch, easily taking the weight off the ground, and then you wheel the A-frame along.
Sometimes the roll of cloth, for some reason not being on an A-frame, is fed into the machine from a different bearer, looking rather like an old school desk.
The roll is dumped onto a wooden bench, from which it rolls violently down into a slot that is, the two ends of the metal spindle it is slung on rest in slots in the two iron end walls of this bearer.
In the drug room, our twenty drums of sulfur dye rest on their sides on two benches which are actually made of two parallel iron rails, like railway rails, standing on short legs.
At each end, the drums are prevented from rolling off by a cross rail which is a round iron tube.
Another item: the little carts or trucks on which we push around buckets of dye or barrels of salt are of two types: a low flat rectangle of wood (blackened and rotting) with an upright piece of piping at one end to serve as handle;
and a slightly higher type, without handle, and hollowed in the middle that is, the surface is not flat but slopes down from each side to the center.
This type may, in turn, be either of wood or of metal; if metal, it consists merely of four bands made to this profile, with gaps between them.
Seeing a single brief action, I realized for the first time the reason for the shape of two of these artifacts. There was a set of the metal rails against a wall somewhere else in the mill; small rolls of cloth (that is, only about two feet in diameter instead of five) were sitting in a row on the rails; a man came up pushing one of the little trucks of the hollow-centered kind and placed it past the end of the rails; he seized the endmost roll of cloth and heaved on it till it rolled over the tubular end stopper, and fell heavily onto the truck; and because of the hollowed center of the truck it stayed there instead of falling off onto the floor.
So the roundness of the end-stopper was to allow of heaving rolls over it, and the hollowness of the truck was to stop the rolls falling off it. We dye-mixers put both artifacts to our own use, but their exact shape had seemed incidental, being determined by the primary use by the cloth-handlers.
Then after he had heaved the roll onto the little truck, the man wheeled it to the beginning of a machine and heaved the roll onto the school-bench-like bearer.
A can-can dance done by sheets of paper (work orders) hanging in a row on clipboards on a wall of a draughty passage.
In some places, you think there is something wrong with your lower eye-rim but it is a soft throbbing of light and shade on your shirt front or other things below, caused by a skyhole filled by a rotating fan above.
When you put your hands, in loose rubber gloves, down into a tank of water (which we sometimes do to clean our gloves), the gloves collapse and squeeze you, administering an immediate lesson that the pressure of water is greater than that of air; you feel it much more definitely than by putting the bare hand in.
This could be used as a sensorial exercise for children, in the Montessori school. Better even than the demonstration of water-pressure by a can full of water with a hole near the top, a hole near the middle, and a hole near the bottom; or by pushing a piece of wood or, better, styrofoam down into water and having it pop up.
Judy tells me that a vivid way to feel gravity is to lie in a bath and let the water drain out. Your buoyancy is gradually replaced by your heaviness, your suction toward the center of the earth.
This also might be a means to hypnotism, since it is similar to the method I learned convincing the subject that he is feeling heavy, heavier, his eyelids are growing heavier, they want to close, his body wants to sink . . .
Dipper lying on lid of the drum of Imperial Fast Red T-235. This liquid dye has turned to a brittle red skin over most parts of the dipper, and has crackled and exfoliated. The dipper is lying on its side and there was a shallow pear-shaped pool of the dye in it. This is now a large red flake surrounded by the most prominent fence of upward-exfoliated curls except at the back, where it meets the upturned bottom of the dipper: here the liquid has remained plastered to the metal and has turned gold (or so it appears with the highlight positioned on it).
Modification: the flake is not surrounded by the upcurled strips. It is composed of them, for the parallel cracks reach all the way to the center line of the flake, which is the only part of the flake still delicately resting on the metal. The flake has become like the ribs of a fish or boat or the leaflets of a vetch leaf, except that each leaflet is a narrow rectangle.
All this and much more has been allowed to form on the dipper because the dye is not used often; a gloved hand will come along and brush the shit off and dip again.
When a liquid is circulating slowly in a bucket or tank, for instance some minutes after it has been poured in, a fleck or blob of foam on it can often be seen to move in epicycles that is, not just in a circle all around the tank, but also in small circles based on that larger circle (like the motion of the moon around the sun, though more pronounced).
Surely it's possible that Ptolemy noticed this? If it didn't suggest the theory of epicycles which were necessary to describe the motion of planets, when the earth was thought to be the center at least it might have made it easier to believe; it might explain how men could go on believing it for so long. The idea of epicycles seems incredible in a vacuum, but credible if space is no vacuum but a tank of liquid, lending itself to eddies.
The top of some mix waiting in a vat, I don't know what it is:
Hot, and the first impression is of some kind of brown reeking petroleum. The liquid is dark brown, would be clear if not so dark, gently steaming, lying still. The left quarter is occupied by a light custard-colored floe, floating on the other; it is situated around where a pipe comes in from above; apparently it is derived from a foam formed earlier, but its texture has now become too fine for any bubbles to be visible. This light-colored floe also lies still, except for its edge, which is waving in and out. This conspicuous motion consists of two sets of horizontal waves or ripples, traveling in the two directions. My eyes try to follow a given ripple, but lose it after a certain distance. Nevertheless the individual ripples, one set traveling right-to-left and the other left-to-right, are real; the reason an individual one momentarily increases or disappears is the addition and subtraction constantly taking place with the ripples of the opposite set. The edge which is thus rippling in and out is sharp; actually it is a little cliff of the light-colored floe downward into the dark brown sea, and as you look closely you see the cliff shadowed darker brown as it disappears downward. The contrary ripples every now and then result in an outward burgeoning of the edge toward another pipe standing in the water; a flag-like ness of the floe reaches and touches the pipe, but is cut off and becomes an isolated wisp and disappears; there is no net growth or shift of the floe.
Over the rest of the tank the dark brown liquid surface there is something else which catches the eye even before the rippling floe-edge: a pattern of yellow streaks, distributed in curves parallel to the floe-edge. They crowd ever closer together toward the far edge of the tank; toward the floe, they thin out, and there is a wider gap, most of the way, between them and the floe. They are more soft-edged than the floe, more varied and twisted in color and texture, a darker buff-yellow, but could perhaps be of the same foam-born material, darker because more submerged. It looks as if they might have originated as arcs cast off from the edge of the floe, and I stand watching to see if any generation of them is still going on, but can discern no movement of them or toward them. As I keep watching, I notice something else: black drops on the floe, some tiny and some tinier, moving around relatively quickly, bumping into each other, sometimes merging, but mainly hurrying toward the edge of the floe and crossing it to join and merge into the darker background liquid. Perhaps they originated from this same liquid underneath and popped up through the floe (but I can't see where they are doing this) or perhaps they are being extruded from the floe, and this is the process of separation of the light floe and the dark liquid. I hurry away for fear of noticing anything else.
At either side of the dye machine, near the pad (dye trough), is a lever, held down by brick-like iron weights (usually three) piled on top of it. The lever, and the weights, rise and fall slightly in one irregular rhythm, and rise and fall much more slightly in a faster rhythm, giving together a shuddering compound motion.
Another set of weights hangs on an arm, to balance at the other end of the arm a roller that is inside the box, with the cloth pouring over it. Weights and roller bounce gently, oppositely, in half-second tempo.
Farther out along the machine, the succession of rollers is interrupted several times by two thicker rollers squeezers between which the cloth passes to have excess liquid cleared out of it. The upper squeezer is free to press down because it is supported only by horizontal arms, which end in fist-like chunks, which fit around vertical greased steel rods. You look at the squeezers themselves and no change of position is detectable, but when you look at the fist-like chunks, you see them rising and falling, just a fraction of an inch, on their rods. The rhythm is noticeable because the black metal chunk, encrusted with dirt, is silhouetted against the brilliance of the cloth stream inside the machine, and it is like breathing.
In the drug room: a tremble beside an aisle of the floor, expressing one of the rhythms in the building. What is this tremble? it is ripples in a puddle of green liquid, in which is standing a bucket, the other side of which is touching a platform, on which is standing a mixing tub, in which is a mix, which is being churned by an agitator.
In the starch-room, a sort of wind-tunnel of cloth, about a foot in diameter, extends away horizontally into a dark space between a tank and a pillar; it is tethered at the hither end; pulses of hot air run off along it.
Some rollers in the machines are not straight, and here and there you find one that is definitely arched or bowed. This swings around like a skipping-rope, and there is not only its wagging rhythm, and the rhythm of the cloth pushed in and out as it runs over this roller, but the broken rhythm of waves in the pad of liquid, slapped to and fro by this cloth.
Most of the rhythms are also expressed in sounds. But the sounds are so many that most of them merge into an even roar.
I thought that among the things I might choose to think about, while standing and waiting, I should choose music apply my mind to turning some themes into a composition. There was no musical interference (what a mercy that nobody had tried yet to give us background music, as in restaurants and other public places!); there was essentially no distraction by the ambient sounds, because they were so blurred by their own abundance, and indeed components out of them might subconsciously suggest musical themes. Moreover, if I hummed, whistled slightly, or tapped on drums, I was unlikely to be noticed.
I have to spend most of the idle hours standing beside the barrels of sulfur dye on their rail (or I sit on one, or sling my knee over its end). I roll two of them slightly: the liquid contents complicate the period, adding, subtracting, so that the barrels lurch, are poised, lurch onward, roll back, in a dance which occasionally makes them knock together. Or I drum with my gloved hands, each on a separate barrel. I'm not being noticeably eccentric; no one can hear me in the general noise I can barely hear the drumbeats, getting the sound through touch.
When the door shuts and leaves me alone in the drug room, I launch into loud liberated whistling. When the door opens with its rasping crash I stop. After a time I become aware that I have not forgotten the tune I started with, have not moved on from it as is usual with mere time-filling improvizing but am still whistling it in the same form; have become addicted to it; that this is not just because I am on it now but because it is noteworthy, though I have no idea where it sprang from. Could it have been prompted by some chord among the noises of the mill? I can note the levels mentally without moving a hand to mark anything down (3-2-1 . . . ) but only when I later have a chance to write it with a pencil do I find that it goes in measures of eleven beats.
There is a way it could be forced into eight beats, and I spend another apparently idle hour in the mill listening to it in my head to make sure that this more conventional version not only is less interesting but is not the natural form; and another hour venturing into the second half of the tune and making sure that what I immediately think of is not, again, mere time-filling but has to be that way. I begin thinking of words is this necessary? there could be topical words about chemicals, machinery, steam, or about bugs, pines, humus; I had been setting fence-posts in the ground, hard logs of the pea-family tree called locust used around here because it never rots in the ground is God an idol of the old rustic world and that is why he is a remnant in the industrial world?
Out of the mountain moving,
Their way of life improving,
They have their grandfather of course along, of course along.
Down through the forest bring him,
Into the city sing him,
He is of locustwood and very very strong
And a lot more of this. But not worthy of the processional (even though eleven-beat) flow of the tune.
We are the former people,
Taller than star or steeple,
Down through your noisy land we take our way, we take our way . . .
A small machine being used for de-sizing a roll of cloth, it's really just the beginning of a full-size machine, the further rollers and cans of this standing idle.
Cloth unrolls from one of the school-bench-like objects, which rocks and clatters because of irregularity in the rapid unrolling motion. The cloth roll itself is lumpish men have been beating one side of it in with the heavy cardboard tube that came out of it, but it is still lumpish, so it jumps about in another set of rhythms as it unrolls. It passes over rollers overhead, descends into a pad of Rapidase, overhead again, finally comes down between two overhead rollers, which are swinging rhythmically back and forth, so as to stack the cloth in rough layers on a cart.
ln the Bleach-House: An overhead bucket swings to and fro for the same purpose of folding the stream of cloth into layers. The cloth comes through a slit in the bottom of it, descends inside a tower, of which the upper part is open woodwork, the lower part steel, with a window in this which shows the cloth piling up. The whole tower now passes down through the floor, which in this area is just an iron grid, and underneath you can see the cloth crushing ever tighter on itself down along a tunnel which curves around like the base of a J. From the end of this, the cloth is again snatched rapidly upward into motion, through the floor, to the ceiling, and into a succession of overhead loops. Or rather these are metal eyes in pieces of wood, far apart, fixed to the ceiling girders. The rope of cloth rattles through them; the action of rollers somewhere ahead keeps snapping it up and forward; the several reaches keep sagging and tautening in a long rubbery addition of rhythms.
All this area of the Bleach House is festooned with bits of lint from the cloth on its tortured journey.
Salts and bases
Naphthol is usually misspelled Naphtol, sometimes Napthol. Naphthol dyes are powders, various light grays, creams, browns, clay-colors. The more water is added, the darker they become and with more of a yellowish component, and you notice that they then splash the sides of the bucket green. They are expensive dyes, used to make deep reds and related colors. They aren't named Naphthol Red, Naphthol Scarlet and the like (I think they used to be) but merely Naphthol AS, Naphthol AS-Ol . . . They are piped to the first pad (trough) in a machine, and out of it the cloth comes a bright yellow, no matter what the final color is to be. The cloth runs through a second pad, in which is a salt (for the lighter colors) or a base (for the heavier) and this though it isn't a red liquid either develops the Naphthol dye to its final ruddy color.
From the end of the drug room descends the ramshackle elevator; emerging from the foot of it, you are at the place where the salts and bases are made up. It's a draughty corner, out by the roll-park and the ways to warehouses and a yard, and the heavy door of an ice-room. The ice-room is the reason for having the salts-and-bases operation here, and is nothing more than a low-roofed brick box sticking out into the yard.
A run of cloth is to be dyed orange with Naphthol AS-D, Naphthol AS, and Naphthol AS-LB, developed with Fast Orange RD salt. (In the tank where they mix the Naphthol dyes upstairs, they also have to put alcohol, caustic, and Accowet K2.)
I go down to make the salt mix, and first I clean the suds of the previous operation out of the tank running some water into it, unscrewing the outlet pipe and pointing it as well as possible toward a drain, but the stuff still floods all over the floor. Then I half fill the tank with water, and go to weigh out 30 pounds of Orange RD in the warehouse. It's hard to dig into with the scoop, especially as the scoop's edge is bent from much digging. I dig the salt into an old cardboard barrel standing on a small weigh-truck. Then I trundle it to the tank and tip it in; set the water going again to fill the tank; set the agitator going too; add half a gallon of Stabilon, a sort of soap; and a great many chunks of ice, hacking them with the icepick from the blocks of ice in the ice-room, and sliding them carefully in or placing them on top of each other to minimize the splash. I take a tumblerfull of the mix to the laboratory and test its pH its acidity or alkalinity on a little machine. (If it's five o'clock or after, all the people who work in the laboratory have gone home.) I'm to add perhaps half a bucket of acetic acid if the pH is too high, or some sodium acetate if it's too low. Actually it always comes out to about the same pH, about 3.0. We are officially aiming at 3.5, but we try to avoid using sodium acetate at all.
This mix, though made in its special place downstairs, has to be pumped up to one of the tanks in the drug room and from there, like all the other mixes, released down a pipe to the machine where it is wanted. So I go back upstairs and watch the tank there, and when it's nearly empty I go down again and cut the pump on by mashing a button so that the mix begins to be sucked up along the line.
The tank above, like most of them, is a l50-gallon one, and the ingredients I have had to put in it, following the formula, are for 150 gallons of mix, but the tank downstairs is a l00-gallon one. So there is another tank, of 50 gallons, standing up on some iron steps nearby; and I have to have it full of water in advance; then, at the same moment as starting the pump, I drape a rubber pipe across from the foot of the 50-gallon tank to the top of the 100-gallon tank, and open a valve, so that the extra water runs into the mix while the mix is running to the 150-gallon tank. The in-running water keeps pace with the pump, so that for the first third of the time of pumping the level remains at the top of the 100-gallon tank.
There are many other makeshift features of this arrangement (which has probably been going on for generations). There isn't a water tap into the 50-gallon tank; it has to be filled with a long heavy hose from somewhere else. As the tank nears fullness, this hose refuses to remain in it, is buoyed up and flops out, just at the moment when you can't hold it because you have to go and turn the tap off; the hose flops onto the iron steps, where it is the custom to stand the rows of cut-open plastic bottles in which half-gallons of Stabilon are kept ready, so that the hose often knocks the bottles down and the steps are slippery with soapy Stabilon. You couldn't change a custom like this, because if you changed it on your shift, it would be changed back by the men on another shift, whom you never see. There isn't a water tap into the 100-gallon tank either, but a shorter rubber pipe; this, and the outlet pipe from the bottom of the 50-gallon tank to the top of the l00-gallon tank, and the outlet pipe from the bottom of the l00-gallon tank to the pump, cross at different levels in front of the door of the ice-room, so that people struggling to drag huge blocks of ice into or out of the ice-room have to stop and disconnect these pipes, if the moment allows, or, if not, change methods to get the ice over or under them somehow. Finally, not only is the ice-room doorway so awkwardly placed, but the door itself is hinged on the wrong side! It opens so that it stands between you and the tank into which you are aiming to put the pieces of ice, so that there is a temptation to lob them over the top of the door instead of going around it.
Eddie boasts: Yes, Carl wasn't very pleased with me when I did that. He said 'Throw some ice in,' so I did. While he was wiping himself off I said, 'Sorry, but you said 'Throw it.'
I didn't handle all this by myself at first, but watched or helped till I was believed to know it. And the first several times it was a base we were making, not a salt. But the more complicated bases process is best described after the salts.
I remember the chemistry lesson that acids neutralize bases, or bases neutralize acids, or, in other words, acid plus base goes to salt. (And some of the decorations to it: acids are electro-positive and bases negative, acids turn vegetable blues to red, bases which include alkalis, which include soda, potash, ammonium turn red to blue, purple to green, yellow to brown.) And so this seems to explain the difference simply: the mix to be sent to the second pad, for developing the dye, has to be a salt; we either use a ready-made salt; or we make our own salt out of a base and muriatic acid, which react together. When I ask Carl whether this is so (trying not to sound too learned) he assents, and it surely must have been one of the things he learned about in the Tech. But when I look up Dyeing in the encyclopaedia, there is little support for this or any other of the generalizations I've tried to impose on this great broken-glass-heap of impressions around me. Instead of bases and salts they are in quote-marks, bases and salts not really bases and salts, apparently and so the process can't really be acid plus base goes to salt. Only the acids are really acids.
They are to dye 10300 yards of cotton to shade New Red #133 with Naphthol AS-0L and Naphthol AS-D, and I am to make up the mix of Fast Scarlet RC base to develop it with.
Instead of being made up directly in the l00-gallon tank, bases are made up in two wooden barrels which stands beside it. This is because a yellow sediment is deposited at the bottom during the reaction, and it would clog the bottom of the tank, where the outflow is. So there is now yet one more stage in the movement of the mix from where we make it to where it's needed: it must be dipped over from the barrel to the l00-gallon tank; pumped upstairs to the l50-gallon tank in the drug room; released down to the pad in the dye-machine.
I first half-fill the barrel with water. Put ice in. Then weigh out 12.75 pounds of Scarlet RC in the warehouse. It's a gray powder that turns yellow when I tip it into the water.
Then 13.50 pounds of mur'atic acid. This is kept in a barrel on its side, out in the yard, presumably because of its fumes. The fumes, which spread from it whenever it is poured through air, seem to have a needly look, as cirrus clouds do, and doubtless for a similar reason: cirrus clouds are made of ice needles, and the muriatic fumes, if breathed in, feel like needles in the nostrils. And yet keeping the barrel out in the yard makes things worse: the fumes spread more widely in any air-current, and seem to chase me as I displace air trying to dodge them. And the barrel is labeled D0 NOT LEAVE IN SUNLIGHT.
13.50 pounds of the acid is about four dipperfuls, I carry it in a bucket to the weigher, which is a large plate set in the floor of a bay of the building; I have another dipperful in my other hand to bring the weight up if short. Then pour the acid into the mix. Then 5.25 pounds of sodium nitrite, from a barrel nearby. The barrel is empty, however; I have to fetch a new one. Weigh on the floor weigher again. Sodium nitrite is a hard crystally powder suggesting (in color and texture) vanilla ice cream well frozen.
The reaction starts as I stir with the wooden paddle muriatic acid reacting with sodium nitrite. Shifting night colors, yellow-brown fumes.
These smoky fumes are poisonous. As they roll out from the surface of the mix, they are supposed to be sucked up into a large metal hood that is suspended above the whole area of the operation, leading pyramidally to a fan, which drives them away along a tube into the sky. Actually very little goes that way: the fan-belt goes ceaselessly around day and night, but the fan seems not to be working, no movement of air can be felt, and the smoke divides and most of it, blown from the doorway, spreads into the factory.
Now I go away and leave the mix setting (sitting) for thirty minutes. When I come back, if I'm lucky, it has cooked. (It may not have done, if the quantities or the temperature were too wrong.) The mix has a restrained version of the muriatic acid smell. Or rather the acid's pain it's nSt a smell but a pain in the nostrils reduced now to a scent.
I dip the mix over from the barrel to the tank with a bucket. During the dipping, there is a resurgence of the sullen colors and smokiness. Evidently the reaction reawakens on materials that didn't get cooked before. I push the barrel over, dislodge as much of the yellow sediment from it as I can with hose and paddle and gloved hands it's not only on the bottom, but splashed down the outside, because of the messiness of the process. I already have another mix cooking in the other wooden barrel, so that whenever the contents of the tank are pumped out I can fill it again.
Meanwhile I fill the tank to nearly the top with more water and ice, and switch the agitator on. And add a half-jug of the soap, Stabilon; and 6.75 pounds of acetate; and about a gallon of acetic acid, or whatever is necessary to bring the mix to about pH 4, though actually we aim at pH 3.5; and take a sample to check the pH, and add more sodium acetate or acetic acid if necessary. The quantities of all these ingredients vary each time, and are, I think, partly fictions of the dye-formula: another time for instance it may be l2 pounds of RC base, l5 of muriatic acid, 72} of sodium nitrite, 6 of acetic acid but they end as approximate levels in buckets, or rough oscillations of the weigh-beam within a pound or two of the target.
More to some stages of this process:
The surprising resistance of two natural substances oak of barrels and paddles, rubber of gloves to all the fierce chemicals.
Sodium acetate is a white powder; put in water, it immediately congeals into cream-colored lumps of various sizes, which only slowly dissolve. Have to put it in a bucket of water and stir beforehand, breaking up the lumps; or catch the bigger lumps as they swirl around in the tank (often they are swallowed by the maelstrom as you try to catch them, and you have to wait for them to surface) and crush them with the paddle against the side. These larger lumps have by now turned orange-pink on the outside, with a texture like stucco; as they break up (showing their insides still white) they stain streaks of the water a deep beetroot red; then these streaks merge with the rest of the water to leave it all a mere tea-brown.
A buzzy feeling, apparently in the water, as you stir it in the bucket (with sodium acetate powder). Really it is vibrations caused by the paddle banging the bucket (twice in each circle), transmitted back a moment later by the bucket through the water to the paddle. Brain-hand-paddle-bucket-water-paddle-hand-brain.
Scarlet RC Base itself is a light cool gray powder. At the moment of contact with water it turns deep warm yellow. Dissolved, it begins to seem more of a clear orange. When muriatic acid and sodium nitrite are added and begin to react, the mixture goes more murky; you would call it a yellowish brown. It goes all kinds of murky, weary, faltering night or at least evening colors, colors that seem due to artificial light or tired eyes or a Gothic movie: you look up to see whether the strip-lights overhead have ceased to be white. Later the liquid is topped by white foam, which seems to be yellow foam where you see it through the drifting clouds of brown smoke escaping from it. Later this foam is going gray on its ridges, or seems itself yielding to uncertain browns or rusts. Later the foam has cleared and the barrel looks like a barrel of iced tea. Richness has been replaced by insipidity; but since it means that the reaction has completed itself rather fully, old workers are pleased by it and say Ah, it's cooked nicely! Later the mix is a blackish green. It is definitely green; now a milky pea-green. This green, when you have switched on the pump and are watching the mix fall from the end of a pipe upstairs, seems to have become more like a yellow. It is foamy again; the foam on top is white but the liquid staining it from beneath is an uncertainty of yellows and roses. RC Base now goes down its pipe to the machine, where it meets the cloth which has been turned a bright light yellow by the preceding bath of Naphthol dye. And RC Base develops this, converting it into the brilliant red which is the final intended result. In the trough where it does this, presumably by a feedback from the cloth which is running through it and being turned red by it, RC Base has itself finally become red, or rather creamy pink because it is foamy. But if you dip some out in a bottle, it is indeed red, and will even sort of dye a rag red.
RC Scarlet is used for a deeper as well as brighter color than the GL Red.
GL foams up in a way that RC doesn't. You are stirring with difficulty because of the blocks of ice, and then you notice that the ice has disappeared. A creamy foam is rising, up and up, over the ice. The bubbles in it are elastic, elongated, reflecting thousand-fold the line of the neon light overhead, but all these little bright slits form an oval curve because of a strain across the surface of the foam.
At one of the later stages the foam is white, apparently with random yellow areas. But the yellow shifts, rather slowly; you see that it does not belong to the foam surface but to a gust of the smoke intervening. The smoke moves across, clears away, breaks again from a point in the foam. At another stage the foam is a hummocky crusty fungal orange surface, blushing occasionally into darker brown as smoke gasps out of it. It is cooking beautifully, and it certainly has beauty. But they mean it is reacting well, and its beauty is final when foam and smoke have cleared and left weak tea.
These bases may not work: the reaction may not proceed beautifully if the temperature isn't down to 400; it may instead produce tar. Even if it has mostly worked, black flecks of tar may appear on the surface, you can pick them out with your fingers. GL is easier than RC. One run of RC, I didn't see any smoke at all, or any sign of reaction; after stirring it for ten minutes I went away for the thirty minutes' wait. When I came back it didn't look different; but Doug said they would go ahead with it and if it didn't work we would just go on to the next load. By now it seemed to me too dark-green; but by the time they came to use it, it looked about as the mix usually did, and it worked all right. It must have done its smoking when I was not watching.
I go to dip over from the wooden barrels an RC mix that has been made up by the previous shift. It is much yellower, topped with a creamy foam a sacredly beautiful foam, still and completely evolved after standing a long time. The outer band, or background, is white, flat satiny-shiny. At a soft boundary the concentration increases to a central area of rich yellow; this is not so utterly flat, the slight hills in it being touched by a deeper concentration into orange or even light brown; in places the brownish ridges divide the background into small cells and give an appearance like a fine calfskin bookbinding. The center of the yellow-orange-brownish area is an inner area of still more concentration, which takes the form of scattered brown flecks, like rusty metal filings (tar?); around each of these, or each patch or blob of them, as if by repulsion, the yellow is cleared away to give a small whitish moat. The deepest spots of concentration of all are black. This whole central pattern of graded concentration has swirls and pockets in it, left by its evolution from a few blocks of ice which were formerly at the surface and have melted; and it is in the shape of an anchor, its asymmetry due to the paddle standing against the edge of the barrel. Having dipped the other barrelful over, I return to my fascination with this undisturbed one; notice that it is not stationary. A slow fine welling of point-sized bubbles adds to the carpet of foam all around the edge, so that it all migrates toward the center, perhaps causing the concentration of color in the anchor-shaped streak.
Doug, coming up behind me: That don't look much like the kind you make, does it? I: No, it's much yellower. Why is that? Not made right. What did they do wrong? In the first place, they probably didn't get it cold enough, and in the second place they didn't stir it enough. See all that stuff at the bottom? he was breaking it up with the paddle. As I dipped it over, it smoked and was cleared a bit more by the reaction.
I've twice made a mistake, forgetting to cut off the pump that is sending the salt or base upstairs, before starting to put water or ingredients into the tank for the next lot. It's because of being too smart, trying to overlap the operations and waste no time. The result, until I notice it, is that what I'm putting into the tank is going directly out through the pump, and making the mix upstairs too weak (in the case of a salt, where I'm adding the water first) or too strong (a base, where I'm dipping the stronger mix over from the wooden barrel before diluting it). I can see ways to correct it (though we will never re-achieve exactitude). Doug lets me try some of the ways, but he says not to bother any more, it'll probably be all right; anyway he won't dump the mix.
Whenever I cut the pump off, a quantity of frothy mix flows back into the downstairs tank; it is what was in the part of the pipe, only four feet or so, before the pump, but it's always more than I expect. I try to run the pump a bit longer and with some water running in to send it away, and then afterwards I have to wash it out of the bottom of the tank with water. But one time it just keeps on flowing back into the tank; the tank is filling back up. I go upstairs and ask Doug whether he is somehow pumping the mix back and if so why. He looks at the tank upstairs and shows me that I have left the end of the inlet pipe reaching to just under the surface. Siphoning it back, he says, lifting the pipe an inch and giving me a wink.
There is a definite order to the outlet valves from any pair of tanks upstairs, too, though this has nothing to do with salts and bases: cut off the tank that has just emptied, then open the outlet from the alternate tank. This is what Allyn told me to do, I wondered why (does it matter that there are a few seconds when mix is not flowing from either tank?), but when I tried it the other way I saw why: if both outlets are open, some mix flows the wrong way, from the full tank down and back up into the empty tank.
The tank upstairs has just filled with base mix, foam circulating slowly on top. Drips from the ends of two water-pipes hanging above it form small clear pools, which slowly close like mouths. As these little drip-marks move on, diminishing, they form a curving train of patches, whiter than the rest of the foam and differing in other subtle ways. Farther on yet, they have led to quiet borderline details which one would not connect with the original drips, such as miniature standing ripples of foam in which a bronze light shows or even a pink; and, slowly subsiding all over the foam, there is the straight parallel ridging, highest on the right of the tank and lowest to the left, which was built by the incoming mix and is now giving place everywhere to circular patterns.
Doug says: How much was left down below? I tell him an inch he says Go and pump it up. Now that the foam is subsiding he can see that there is room for the rest. I go down and mash the button that will set these patterns into renewed turmoil.
We use Red GC base, Scarlet RC base, Red GL base, Scarlet R salt, Scarlet G salt, Scarlet 2G salt, Red GL salt, Red 3GL salt, Orange RD salt. There are others (Garnets, Violets, even a Blue) but we hardly ever use them. There is a GPC solution (salt?) and a Wine.
Orange is a powder that looks white, red may apply to a powder that looks orange, scarlet a powder that looks gray.
Scarlet R salt: under bulb lights in the warehouse, it looks pale pink; under neon lights, almost all pink has drained out of it. In the tank upstairs, the foam is pink on top but this is just the surface of a two-inch layer of white foam, as you see when you lower the measuring rod, which leaves a square trench in the layer and the liquid under that is dark olive-green. When you look at the original powder you see that it too tends to have pink on the top and green beneath, but both so muted that they combine to a pale mushroom off-white.
Red GL salt: a pale yellow powder. When it gets up your nose, and comes out on your handkerchief, it is brighter yellow; where it gets on your skin, it leaves you orange-brown. It resists dissolving, a lot of it staying as dust on the top of the water for some time (giving you an extra chance to breathe it in). In the water, it is a brown-yellow with creamy yellow foam. When it gets to the vat upstairs, the mountains of white foam sink after a time to become a scum which is more orange toward its thicker and finer-bubbled parts, and has black divisions. Eventually it forms fuzzy cracks in itself, which are brown, or darker than the little whitish-orange floes in between.
This salt mixture when made up has a smell which is sweetish but like the smell of rust. But perhaps this is suggested by the resemblance to a tankful of rusty water.
I made up six mixes of this in the shift (besides doing a few other things). Seemed like more. Simpler than making the base mixes, and seemed a good way of getting through the evening. But each mix required 80 pounds of the base, and digging it was hard work. But this was mainly because the powder got up my nose and made me sneeze. Doug offered me his mask but I declined it, thought I could dodge the powder well enough by breathing aside. Each time, I was sneezing by the end of digging and weighing the 80 pounds, but it was tolerable.
They were dyeing 36,000 yards of cloth; we thought we had made enough of the salt, but I had to go and weigh out one more half load (40 pounds, and filling the tank half full by eye). I was ready to do another whole load, but Doug said half would be enough. For some reason (perhaps I was more careless digging it out) this set me sneezing seriously and I couldn't stop. It was hard to sleep that night because my nose was blocked and runny, and next day I was still as if I had a very heavy cold, with a temperature.
Allyn: Wash it off your skin, it burns if you leave it too long. He tells me he made up the salts and bases at Union Bleachery for ten years. I: Did they give you a mask? Yes, it kept some of it out. But sometimes I couldn't even shave, my face was covered with blisters, all sore from sneezing so much. Didn't they take you off the salts and let you do something else for a bit? No, you did it every day. It was your job.
Particles of the salt that reach the tongue have a bitter feel (rather than taste).
Allyn glances at the latest formula hung up on the workboard, makes an exclamation and puts his finger under his nose: Fast Scarlet 2G salt, it must be one of the worst. Wear your mask this time.
I do, and am sneezing only a little at the end.
2G is a pale flesh-pink powder, it goes to dirty orange-brown in the water. It's being used with the Naphthols to make shade Burnt Orange on cotton.
The salts have me down and I can't come up. On days when the roll of spare cloth, from which I have to tear handkerchieves, is stiff with starch, my nose is extra sore.
There could be another whole series of observations about the small maelstrom set up by the agitator in a mix. It goes clockwise, and foam is sucked down into it along clockwise-inward spirals. Then there are standing ripples, curving the same way; but there are also moving ripples, which curve the same way, but move counterclockwise. Thus they come welling up out of the maelstrom and rush paradoxically against the direction of the water. It reminds me of the counter rotations seen in a fan or propeller slowing down; but those must be mere moiré effects, correspondences picked up by the eye, whereas these ripples are real. If you let your eye go vague, there is a kind of rattling, battling alternation of clockwise and counterclockwise motions.
All this is when the tank is nearly full. When the pipe leading from the bottom is opened, the next stage, with the surface of the liquid part way down, is that the maelstrom deepens and roughens. I should explain that the agitator is a little engine perched on the rim of the tank; the shaft reaches in on a slant, the blades are roughly under the center of the maelstrom. Sometimes the eye of the maelstrom plummets almost down to the blades and sends up a gurgling; sometimes it is plugged with foam, and this may push out of the top in a convex button and then be swallowed back.
The spiral lines whether foam or ripples descending and ascending the wall of the maelstrom become more ledgy, and now as you look in there is an impression of many crinkly polygons rapidly succeeding each other. The spiral lines often intersect at their bases to produce momentary cigar-shaped openings in the foam, reminiscent of pictures of the vocal cords down in the throat.
The next marked stage is when the surface or at least the eye of the maelstrom is low enough for the blades to interfere and create a lot of foam. The surface is increasingly carpeted with foam. Thick tapering sculptured ropes of it are drawn into the center, where they are seized in a rapid twisting action that turns them under. There is an alternation of slow moments when the rolls of sleepy foam have flowed back over and hidden the turmoil, and quick moments when the violence of twisting is on the surface again. Next, the agitator blades on the upper side of their circuit (as they are slanting) emerge, cutting a clearing in the foam; the foam circulates raggedly around this, to rush again into the cliff or roll over the lower side of the blades. Where they cut into the surface, the blades turn the foam under like this; where they cut out of it, they are able to flick dollops of it all the way to the side of the tank. Next, the central pond of foamless liquid drops below the blades, but these still slice into the roll of foam surrounding it. The last influence of the blades on the foam is to pat it rapidly as it circulates below, thus leaving a gentle ridge all the way around the tank with a series of small chop-marks on it, a quarter of an inch apart. These and the ridge soften back into the general foam. The blades are now spinning in air, but it looks as if they are still blowing the liquid around: there is still a maelstrom under them, but it is due to the hole at the bottom of the tank, now approaching. I switch the blades off; I should have switched them off long before, so as not to generate so much foam. The maelstrom still goes clockwise down the hole, though water left to drain down a hole will, in the northern hemisphere, spin counterclockwise if not otherwise influenced.
(But a physicist has just told me that this Coriolis effect of the rotation of the earth will take place only if the container is perfectly symmetrical and only if the liquid is perfectly still: and that means, it has not been stirred in a clockwise direction in the last twelve hours! In other words, it may appear to be perfectly still, but if it has been stirred within the last twelve hours there will be minute eddies in it almost on the atomic scale.)
When the agitator in the salt-or-base tank is stopped, there is still a hurrying rhythm disproportionate to the actual pace of the maelstrom; this is due to sound; and you now realize that it is due to the sound of the fan-belt of the useless fan overhead, going ceaselessly around night and day.
You glance up after the maelstrom has gone; and concrete forms, trucks, rolls of cloth, other barrels of liquid, are trying to rotate in the opposite direction, just like the deck of a ship when you stop staring at the sea. The most curious effect is when you don't glance away so far, but only as far as the inside walls of the tank, above the maelstrom: as these try to twist counter to the maelstrom, the tank as a whole appears to be belly-dancing.
The foam at the bottom of a tank is rather hard to get rid of, regardless of whether you leave the agitator on longer than you're supposed to. The bottom doesn't slope enough; a lot of foam wells back in when you stop the pump; and when you pour water in, this water just runs out under the foam and leaves the foam sitting on top.
All these observations are about a tankful of foamy or dark-colored mix. If instead there is water (which is never colorless but may be clear) then instead of these surface apparitions you watch the downward tail of the maelstrom, every so often losing contact with the air above and being swallowed down toward the agitator blades, to find its way upward somewhere as bubbles.
Foam on various kinds of salts and dyestuffs is so rich and fine-bubbled and creamy that I find myself tempted to scoop some of it out and put it in my mouth as if it would be as good as whipped cream. One night after leaving work I was given a Boston cream pie and was disproportionately grateful for it even though the layer of cream in the middle was not much like whipped cream.
Speaking of the first shift, Doug told me that Robert Allen weighs out the dyes, Ray looks after the tanks, and there's a colored boy, I forget his name, who makes up the bases. So that is roughly how to name the divisions of labor: on our shift Doug, the senior, is the weigher out of dyes, Allyn, sort of equal in status to him but man of brawn rather than brain, tips things into the tanks and watches to see when the tanks need refilling, and I am way junior and am the base-maker. But in practise we often mix functions.
Making up the salts and bases is regarded as the messiest job, because of all the splashing around with hoses and buckets and blocks of ice. And the liquid thus splashed around is the worst for staining clothes and skin. RC base and GL base and many of the others stain the skin orange-brown. I have stains on my arms, some on my legs that came in through the rents in the knees of my jeans, a caste-mark between my eyes, and several brown fingers. By scrubbing with bleach you can get it down to a paler yellow, but it continues to wear off for twelve hours, staining bedlinen.
A square of floor around the salts-and-bases tank and its attendant wooden barrels and hoses is enclosed by a little concrete barrier a couple of inches high, and has a drain in the middle. But this is hardly effective in containing the splashings. From time to time I try to clean up the floor, driving hosts of discolored water and chemical dregs before me with a hose and trying to steer them to a drain. But they tangle with the bottoms of barrels, get in among the ironwork under the steps. Sheets of water form on the floor outside the barrier, I sweep them with a broom toward the door, they eddy back from it because the floor is poorly laid; or if pushed out over the threshold into the yard, where there seems to be no drain, they stagnate under a crowd of old barrels presumably have been stagnating there for generations.
Cooling is something that is done only for salts and bases almost every other process in the plant requires heat.
Ice is put in the salts-and-bases-making tank downstairs because the reaction (of the bases) is supposed to take place at 400 (I'm not sure, then, why it is there for the salts). Then the mix is supposed to be kept at 400 as it goes through the pipes and is held in the tank upstairs, and is supposed to be kept at 400 when it reaches the pad and develops the dye. So my additional duty is to take ice to the pad in a large wooden metal-lined truck.
This is relatively easy because I break the huge blocks up into small ones with the ice-pick and load them in. But sometimes I take ice upstairs to put in the tank there, and the only way to do that is to drag a whole block along the floor with the tongs, into the elevator, and from the top of the elevator along the drug room floor to the tank, and break it up there. Dragging it along the floor is not bad, once it has started and is sliding on its own moisture; the trouble is at the beginning, in the ice-room, where I first have to topple it so that it falls and remains on its narrow edge and not its broad face. The toppling crash of the five-foot high block is hard to control, and if it ends on its broad face I can't drag it the tongs don't open wide enough and can only lift it up onto the narrow edge at the cost of a grim struggle and peril to my toes.
Around one of the tanks upstairs, into which we sometimes pump the salt or base, there is a coat; in other words the tank stands within a surrounding concentric tank. At first I thought this was in case of overflow, if too much was pumped up. The tank is the oldest in the room, it is remarkably rusty and corroded, and the moat or coat or jacket around it is filled with the oldest, slimiest, most stagnant and polluted liquor in even this plant; so I thought that this was long-accumulated dribbles of overflow. But the jacket is meant to be for water with ice in it, to keep the surrounded tank cold; but we never do this.
Allyn: When I was in Union Bleachery making the salts and bases, they didn't fool around with this ice at all: they had a jacket like this around the tank where they made it up, and they was iced water not with ice in it, just iced water running through this jacket all the time and keeping the tank cold. Then when you'd made the base you piped it to the storage tank, and that tank instead of a jacket round it, hit had pipes coiled all round it, with this cold water running through them all the time. They made up this cold water in another machine, you didn't have anything to do with it; just mash the button and turn it on.
Getting ice into the ice-room after the hääs-truck has brought it from the Traveler's Rest Ice Company's shack: have to heave and jerk with tongs, it seems a tough job, feet may slip while tugging, the ice mountain may leave the tongs and fall on toes, the Hyster keeps bringing yet more blocks in its claws. Then a small black man arrives, and with his tongs he almost wafts the ice from place to place. I ask him: How long have you been doing this? Twenty-one years.
I thought he was the mill's ice-man, but he's from the Traveier's Rest Ice Company, he's brought the ice in his truck and has been unloading it onto the Hyster at the loading-bay.
The ice-store is at the end of Traveler's Rest village. Usually a man or two sitting on the platform at the front, swinging his legs. Most of their business consists of supplying this mill with ice.
To the side, near the road, there is a dark masonry tank, its lid up, green slime on it, full of water for keeping watermelons in. When a man lobs another watermelon in, it bobs heavily to the surface and the black water swings like a seesaws.
Chunks of ice floating in the base mix act as lenses, and you can see bubbles and particles hitting their under-surfaces and rushing at exaggerated speed to their edges. But then, at the interstices where these bubbles and particles must be emerging, there seems little activity.
Not to be confused with the many salts used along with Naphthol dyes is salt, common salt, which is used along with Reactive and Disperse dyes. It is made up into a brine, in a square wooden tank of its own, down on the machine room floor, and pumped from there up to a tank in the drug room, the same tank we make the caustic and hydro in; and from there it is released down to the machine that needs it.
The salt starts in bags in a part of the warehouse. I climb up on the square mountains of bags marked just Carey Salt, Food Grade to slide one down to Allyn's shoulders; he staggers, it's a hundred pounds. Other times I am by myself, climbing up to maneuver the bags to the edge of the cliff, and getting down again to take them from there. The bags break rather easily just on the fingers, and then there is nothing to do but leave them. Once while climbing around I lost my money among the salt-bags. I get five bags onto a little wooden truck, push it a few hundred yards (sometimes through a curtain of rain at the junction of two warehouse areas); lift the bags up some iron steps and onto a surface by the elevated salt tank. The wood all around is iced with salt formations; there are salt-edged washes down the sides of the tank, salt-tipped dust on the pipes. I heave each bag to the edge of the hole, burst its end with blows of an old piece of pipe lying to hand; the salt slumps into the tank; I am adding water meanwhile, stirring it with both agitator and steam; at a certain stage as the water rises the agitator will splash me if I don't quickly set the lid on the hole the lid is another old piece of wood, doesn't fit. When the tank is full, I cut the pump on (mash a button).
Sometimes this salt brine is used by itself, sometimes with caustic or Dykoset added.
The vertical stream of brine, pouring not very forcefully out of its pipe into the tank upstairs, has a banded appearance: gray striations cross it, about an inch apart, flickering but standing in constant places. They make me think of a fish and its scales (perhaps the idea of salt water brings this to mind). Perhaps they are caused by interference with the fast-flickering neon lights overhead.
Toward the end of the empluyees' booklet is a brief section on Safety. Safety, like freedom, is everybody's job . . . Your job is no place for horseplay. If you notice anything unsafe, tell your supervisor about it. Follow the safety rules. Use the safety devices. There aren't any.
Well, there is a badge
which you can wear if you ask for it, I've seen a man who wears one.
THIS DEPARTMENT HAS WORKED . . . DAYS WITHOUT A LOST TIME ACCIDENT. In our department some gnome changes 638 to 639 with a piece of chalk, but the same sign hanging in other departments has its blank left blank. (Zero days without accidents?)
IN CASE OF FIRE DO NOT USE WATER ON SODIUM HYDROSULFITE USE SODA ASH this is printed on the door of some old wooden storage structures. But other such things you only learn by word of mouth: This stuff is caustic, you don't want to get it on you, right? especially in your eyes. If you do, get some acetic acid and water, they kill it. The powder from hydrosulfite of soda (hydro) as opposed to the smoke from it when it burns is merely unpleasant to breathe, as far as I know, and this applies also to the fumes from muriatic acid (out in the yard, with the DO NOT LEAVE IN SUNLIGHT labels on it). But I could be wrong, they may be fatal.
The handle of a bucket in which I carry forty pounds of liquid caustic is a thinnish wire it did break once, but merely when I was carrying Sodyesul Liquid, barrels of which are labeled WARNING CONTAINS ALKALINE SULFIDES . . . CONTACT WITH ACID WILL LIBERATE HYDROGEN SULFIDE (A TOXIC GAS) . . . AVOID CONTACT WITH SKIN AND EYES . . .
The wheel of a wooden truck falls off as someone pushes it along to get bucketfuls of acid.
Ice-picks and scissors stuck in back pockets, point upward. Metal guard in a quarter-circle around the nozzle on which buckets are hung to be filled with caustic men pee there occasionally. In another place, liquid caustic and acetic acid come from hanging hoses, with holes in the concrete underneath, eaten by the drips. Shoe uppers separated from soles by acid.
And then there are the ice-room, which looks as if you could easily get shut in it; the gay splashes of mix sent up by tossed chunks of ice, the row of Stabilon bottles standing on the step, the impotent fan for sucking poisonous fumes away.
And the elevator down from the drug room to the ice-room region. It is the subject of the only known safety-rule: that men must not ride up and down in it, only send loads. But they ride in it, even taking it as a short cut on the way out of work. It grinds slowly down, and when its roof reaches the level of the floor, this roof is stopped by brackets that project from the shaft wall. The elevator goes on down without its roof. This is so that anybody who accidentally steps into the shaft will not fall. The roof, which is a collection of old plywood boards, is not sitting straight and therefore hits something else just before it hits the brackets, and settles with a clatter, which made me cringe, the first time; the old man riding with me laughed. But the dangerous part is that, previous to this, the roof is held up by two heavy T-shaped bars; the bases of the Ts stand on the girder which is across the top of the elevator, held by two bolts each; these bolts are variously bent or loose, and would be inadequate for the job anyway, because of the strain of their position; so when the roof stops, and there is nothing pressing on the T-shaped bars from above, they half topple over. One day they will break their bolts and fall entirely over on someone's head.
I jot one- or two-word notes at a furious rate. My notes are on language or the colors of dyes running down drains, but someone might think I am an industrial spy. Why else even carry cards and a pencil in my pocket? So I go to equally intense lengths not to be noticed. I use my old device of the branbaffle, memorizing strings of syllables or single letters till I have a chance to jot them, for instance in the few seconds of invisibility from above and below while riding down in the elevator.
Henstrafle. Hen reminds me that a tap through which water and steam are coming at the same time bounces around like the beak of a hen pecking grain. Strafle contains strainer (another use for the universal cloth), safe (a badge saying I AM A SAFE WORKER), and stifle (something unconnected with Abney, a reminder to add something to my doggerel poem beginning Though his wife'll / Be an eyefull / You must hesitate to trifle / With the intimate possessions of a man who owns a rifle).
Most of my mill-branbaffles are longer, because a long time elapses before I can get a chance to jot them down, and I have to give a whole syllable to each item if I'm to remember what it meant. Louis Hallmasguare bucream (St. Louis, Halltex, mask, square waves, creamy standing wave).
When at long last I'm alone in the drug room, I cautiously scribble, perhaps on a sheet from Doug's pile of scratch paper that he uses for calculations. I'm ready to scrunch it up and shove it in my pocket if anyone comes in. Or if I get too impatient and the branbaffle is growing too long to remember, I take a stroll down the room and, behind a tank, jot quickly on my knee, wary lest the door at that end opens suddenly; or I go for one of my walks through the lonelier avenues between Dye and Bleach. I hope to remember next morning what it was I wanted to record about St. Louis or Halltex.
Quills, the Abney Mills magazine (title chosen after a contest in which more than 700 employees participated suggests in a single word not only the art of writing but the industry of yarn spinning), is not more interesting than one would expect, but it tells me of an old man called Scroggins, employed in another plant, who makes things out of white-oak strips. He chooses a tree with soft bark and straight grain, saws it down, cuts it like cordwood, splits the wood into small strips, scrapes them with a dull knife to make them slick and supple, and weaves them into baskets for feeding cattle, clothes-baskets, lunch-baskets, covers for bottles and serving-dishes, and novelty vases and churns; sometimes paints the wood. He learned the trade from his father, who made baskets for fishing these are now unlawful.
I'm working by the salts-and-bases tank, two men come up and speak to me. You started last week, didn't you? Well, how are we treating you? Well, we hope you like it! Goodbye . . .
Who were those two? Those two guys? they're the boss men, they are. Are they personnel managers or something? Them? no, they're the boss men. Bryce, he's over the Division and Mullinax is over the Plant. So the Division is other plants besides this? No, I think it's just this. But he's the top man, he is. What are they called exactly Division Superintendent, Plant Manager? They're just the Boss Men, that's what I call them. They're the ones with the fuzzy balls.
Doug came and told me I had to go see Willy Hayes the head of Dyeing, Willy Hayes told me I had to go see Mr. Bryce the Boss Man. I tramped through reaches of the machine floor that I had only seen my first day, on the way from the personnel office; went past that office to a room at the very corner of the building, where on the first day a board meeting had been in progress (I had peered in on it while waiting).
Bryce made some general conversation and then said the reason he had sent for me was that some of the men had noticed me making sketches or notes, he wanted to be able to reassure them that it was okay. I said it was and we went back to general conversation. He told me about a novel, The Chandler Heritage by Ben Haas, that dealt with the mill world of South Carolina. Talked to me about the history of Abney Mills. Assured me that there would be no secrets for industrial spies to seek in this side of the industry at least: If I want to know something about a process I don't hesitate to call up one of the other managers, and similarly I would share with them anything they want to know.
I said I hankered to do a painting of some scene among the machinery I thought he might get the Quills photographer to help by taking snapshots; I pretended it might result in a picture of a type that Abney Mills could use, perhaps like the ridiculously streamlined aerial-view drawings of their fourteen plants displayed in the entrance by the personnel office. He pretended to understand my wish and said I would be welcome to do it on my own time.
Just as I was leaving, Bryce said: Oh, one thing more listen carefully to what the men you're working with tell you about safety-regulations. (As there are none, the men don't talk about any.) In the context it sounded just a little like a threat.
One regular customer orders red cloth, prints black dogs on it.
The bleachery was originally in Massachusetts, owned by another company. Came here when the cotton-spinning industry left New England, and came to this valley because of the pure water in it. Or rather, very soft water. Was acquired by Abney Mills, which was a group of cotton mills without its own bleachery. By now most larger groups of mills have their own bleacheries.
The cotton industry is in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama. Originally because of the cotton grown there; now because the trained people are there.
Carl: They're starting a bleachery now in St. Louis, Missouri. They may have trouble getting people to run it, may have to pay more to attract them. They offered me a job there, paying more than I get here, I was ready to go, but my wife didn't want to move. And it may fold.
Some jobs that people have in Abney's thirteen other plants: spinner, weaver, loom fixer, loom cleaner, slasher, oiler, battery filler, cloth grader, cloth doffer, second hand folder tender, spooler tender, roving frame tender.
Since visiting Mabry Mill a second time (old wooden watermill preserved on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia) I can see more clearly why this other thing, though so much huger and not run by water or wind and used for a different purpose, is called a mill and not, as it would be in England, a factory. A mill is felt to be a point of application of power, rather than a machine that grinds. The old mountain man, Ed Mabry, harnessed a stream to turn a wheel, and then he used the motion of the wheel to do everything he could think of and that the community needed: not only grinding buckwheat but honing tools and sawing planks. The clusters of machinery grew bigger, moved out onto the plain, found other sources of power, served larger communities, stopped turning out all products and specialized in a few; so now you have a great shed, using steam from its boilerhouse and electricity, and dyeing cotton made somewhere else, but it is still a mill, because there was no point where its evolution from Mabry Mill was discontinuous.
Judy conceives a novel that would show the parallel between these mills and medieval cathedrals. The way the community clusters around the mill or did, a few years ago, less so now. Depending on it, all life governed by it: church, school, social, as well as economic. The way the mill building, too, rises like a cliff above the community.
I'm not the one to fill out such a scheme. My observations on the froth in the vats would bulge out the story-scenes.
Carl Cole, name for a proposed character (combination of our two supervisors).
Union Bleachery Baptist Church; Southern Bleachery Baptist Church; Southern Worsted Baptist Church; Southern Worsted Beauty Shop. Signs like these where the highways pass the perimeters of mill communities. Behind the sign, within the perimeter, separated by fields from other communities, are families who go to the mill school, play baseball together in the grass in front of the mill, go together to the mill church, marry each other, have their quarrels suppressed by the mill-village sheriff, and work standing inside the mill eight hours of every day in the year with the exception of Saturdays, Sundays, and the week of July 4.
A small grid of streets A to C Streets crossed by lst to 7th Avenues which was the village for Union Bleachery, but has become embedded in other housing that has filled the fields around it.
Mills Mill, in Mill Avenue, in the southern part of Greenville.
Milledgeville, the former capital of Georgia sounds like the quintessence of one of these mill-edge villages, but was named after Milledge, first governor of the state. His forebears must have come from the edge of a mill in Britain.
I was summoned a second time to Willy Hayes's office, but instead of sending me on to Mr. Bryce he led me out of a door and across a yard. On the way he said The boys upstairs tell me you're doing a good job, so I'm putting you in for a raise. We arrived in a storeroom, where he gave me boots. He didn't mention the obvious, that it was dangerous for me to wear open sandals. I had given up trying to wear my only shoes, they were so collapsed they wouldn't stay on my heels. He gave me a black neoprene apron. Said I hope the boys upstairs don't get the idea that they'll all be given boots and aprons. Why not? This storeroom was full of them.
Gloves and boots on barrels
The old men crowded around. Steel toecaps, eh? If a cow treads on you you'll never know it. I've been working here seventeen year and they never give me no boots. They were all wearing their own old acid-eaten shoes, or rubber boots bought by themselves, and aprons made anew by themselves every few days out of scraps of the mill's cloth.
They stood around adjusting the apron for me. It went all the way from my chin to the fronts of my ankles, getting wider as it went down. It felt absurd, and I took it off, saying I was too hot and would wear it when making up the salts and bases. Next time I had to do this splashy job, Doug reminded me of the apron and I took it down in the elevator, didn't wear it, and afterwards he had to tell me I had left it folded on the steps.
Next day I was sluggish at work. And the day after, still sluggish, I realized it was due to the boots. I wasn't used to dragging that weight around.
I had noticed that the men shuffle around in a weary way, even if they are better than me in doing heavy work with their arms. Their heavy shoes and boots are an encumbrance to them, and being dragged along, rotted by chemicals, and worn when very old because they are for dirty work, they burst and become more misshapen and encumbering still. The men aren't conscious of this, but they must be conscious that it is an effort to get from place to place.
Big men, big arms, small hands on the end, like tools. Characteristic turning-movement at wrist with thumb and fingers apart often in turning a valve, but used also as a gesture. A few of the hands on the ends of these chunky arms are chunky, but none are without the grace of attitude, which is simply the nature of the human hand, but which might seem inconsistent with the bluntness the workingmen seek in every other way, so that I catch myself wondering whether they feel embarrassed about their graceful hands.
There is little pallor, after all many are quite brown, I don't know when they have time to get so.
All have pocket knives, to slit bags open, pare their fingernails, start tears across pieces of cloth. Now they are honing their knives on a rock, or whetrock, a carborundum whetstone borrowed from R.C. I ask to use it. When I produce my knife: That's almost illegal! The state has a law about the length of blade you may carry. They measure mine, but aren't sure what the limit is. The knife is of some hard metal and we can't get an edge on it, not enough to shave the hairs on your arm.
Doug to me: Well, are things in England getting any better for the working man? What's this, an invitation to talk about socialism, a probe to see whether I'm an agitator? I don't know much about conditions in England for the working man, I decide on something vague but pessimistic. Doug is only making spasmodic conversation and is now busy lighting his pipe.
Doug whetting knife
Johnny, who usually works on a machine, is making the base with me, showing me how to do it. He says: I've only been here six months, I was in one of their cloth mills before. But I can do any of these jobs, they only have to show me once. And besides, I can read I can read these Dye Formulas.
He like me is ectomorphic, a thin old man with agitated movements, trying to please, but laughed at by the others, despite his thicker than usual local accent, despite his short thick gray hair. His little face is deeply divided into wizened chunks, yet is that of a child, with big eyes; it is in constant movement, partly because he chews tobacco.
Doug to Allyn: Have you heard how Harry's getting on in hospital? No. They usually keep them thirty days, don't they? To me: He's a boy that worked on the third shift, he's ill in his mind. He's a good darkie nigger. (Change of term because I might disapprove the first? or not understand it?) I don't know what happened. I think it might be his wife getting at him some way. Allyn, summing up: Something pushing him.
R.C., speaking to the group: D'you hear Ben shot him a boy last night? I, though hardly part of the group: What, killed him? No . . . He's in hospital, probably be paralysed all one side. Why did he shoot him? R.C., answering briefly, not really wanting to talk with me: Trying to break into his gas-station.
Later I found out that the boy was literally that, a teenager, white not a black man, as assumed by those who think they know the language of southern racists. The boy, mentally subnormal, had broken into other gas-stations including the one just across the road; the owner, expecting a break-in, lay in wait with a gun, shot the boy, said he wouldn't if he had known who it was, a neighbor's son.
I bring apples and eat them; offer one to Doug, but he says I don't believe I will, thank you. In a bit he adds: An apple's not much use to you if you've got no teeth. I should have anticipated: Doug's mouth is in-sunken.
Allyn admits only to having one bad tooth.
I notice the things people are eating: all soggy usually sweet things from the machines, that don't need chewing. All the older men have sunken mouths. On two dollars an hour, how can they get their teeth fixed for sixty dollars?
In a hutch by the gate sits the guard, a pathetic old man, with bleary bulging eyes, and a brown trilby hat. Gives a sad smile to me as I walk in. He is not especially old, but is especially pathetic. Trunk shaped like a cube, but in the opposite sense from Allyn: sticks out almost to a point at front and back. And it is encased in blue overalls which end many inches above his shoes. Does he sit there in boredom for eight hours? He has pain in his feet and seems barely able to walk.
Yet the first time I notice him, he is making his rounds. I thought he was the photographer for Quills, but the metal thing dangling on his chest isn't a camera: it's a round machine into which, at each checkpoint, he has to insert a key, proving he has been there. I ask Allyn about this, he says That key'll tell on ya, but can't explain further.
The guard has to make these rounds every hour, and can get around the mill in about half an hour. Twenty-five minutes, if he's quick. So Allyn says I wouldn't have no part of that job too much walking.
I: And that old boy looks as if he can hardly walk at all.
Allyn: He can move, though. He's quicker than he looks. But me, I wouldn't have no part of that job.
I feel I would like this job of walking around earlier, when more impressed by the hard-working parts of my job than by the boring ones, I felt I would like the guard's job of sitting doing nothing. Both represent peace to think.
When men walk out at the gate, sometimes they walk together if their pace happens to be the same, in which case they talk if they have something to say, otherwise are silent, with no ceremony; but if one happens to want to move ahead, he does so, with no ceremony. Allyn even takes a different route, through the warehouse, which brings him out behind those he would otherwise have had to walk with for no reason than to get away from them.
I walk out with Eddie. I hang back politely to stay with him, though his remarks to me are the defensively rude ones of a fat person who knows he is receiving kindness. I can hardly keep my balance, but still I'm not slow enough for Eddie, who says: Don't hurry away! The faster you walk the more tired you get, you know. For me it's the opposite but I can't say so.
I am almost the only one who walks uway after work. Even Ray who lives only a couple of hundred yards away in School Street always comes in his truck.
Doug always offers to drive me I'll drive you home, if you'll let me. I get into his little beetle car and can't see in any direction because of the fog on the windows, I clutch something as we lurch out over the ditches of which the mill's parking-lot is composed. And it takes longer to get into the car and out of the parking-lot and drive around the short loop of street than it would take me to walk across between the houses, and I want to take off my footwear and refresh my feet on the ground; so next time I decline with an excuse I have to go through this way to catch my dog, he barks outside a neighbor's house.
Sweet sensation of baring my feet, as soon as I reach the darkness and dewy grass at the far side of the parking-lot.
My feet seem already bleached white, even blue-white by contrast with the color (heightened by South Carolina red clay) they were before. Only the toenails are that color now, stained by salts and bases. If they were put through the Bleachery, my feet could hardly be better bleached than they are in the Dyehouse: imprisoned eight hours a day in socks, which have been unchanged for five weeks (because I have no others, or, if I did, wouldn't want to subject them too to the salts and bases) and which remain wet from day to day (because I have to store them in the boots). Actually I'm bleached all over by having to wash so much, to get acids and dyes off.
The siren: a trident, standing on the boilerhouse, with sounding-cones above each of its three points. It is lower and smaller than other things around it on that roof, but the flag of sunlit steam fluttering about it, wrapped this way and that by the breeze, reminds you of its twice-daily moment of power.
When it blasts, the much huger plume of steam that leaps out of it hides the sound cones, and as the blast ceases the last of this plume pops away into the sky like a bullet, or like the detaching tail of a comet.
If I arrive when I ought before the siren I watch out of the window for it to blow. (I am reluctantly donning socks and boots.) When it blows, it makes me jump.
A pigeon is more startled: seems as if blown upward by the siren. He must have been sitting on the edge of the roof tank near it. Shot upward on the cloud of steam with his wings a V, he takes to flying and describes a wide semicircle in the airspace, which brings him past my window; again he is gliding with wings still in a V, and his face seems indignant, or interrogative, or not without some expression, simply because its pink lines become sharp as he passes near me. A few moments later, the pigeons are settling on the roof tank rim so near the potent siren.
The dye is made up, the machine men are ready downstairs, we cut the valve on and the dye starts running. But they only dye a certain length I suppose it's several hundred feet, however, so as to go right through the machine. Then they stop to match its color with what was wanted. More often than not it isn't right. They pump the dye back up from their pad to our tank.
Then when the supervisor who did the matching has decided what alteration should be made, he brings us the emended dye formula or simply calls up to Doug, who is waiting at the top of the steps. If the dye is too heavy, the alteration may be simply a matter of cutting. Cutting can be done by releasing (I mean dumping) a number of notches of liquid from the tank, then filling the tank to the top again with water provided you've figured out first just how many notches. This is what Doug does, scribbling on paper or on the wall, converting a percentage into the twenty-five or twenty-six notches of the tank.
Cut means in effect add water, dilute. So it comes to be used for salt mixes too: the poundage of salt to go with l50 gallons of water is put in, but into a 100 gallon tank, and so at a later stage must be cut by adding the remaining 50 gallons.
The opposite alteration to cutting is adding. At the outset the dye formula says Sodye Navy GICF, l0 pounds. But that proves to be not heavy enough, so the dye formula comes back with new figures in a second column: Sodye Navy GICF, l5 pounds; Sodye Black ZRCF, 3 pounds. So we simply add the extra pounds to the tank. It still isn't heavy enough, the dye formula comes back with a third column, Sodye Navy GICF, 20 pounds; Sodye Black 2RCF, 3 pounds; Sodye Brown SRCF, l0 pounds. Again we add the difference. Again, not right, but in a more complicated way: the fourth and final column says Navy, 27 pounds; Black, 2.70 pounds; Brown, 27 pounds. First we have to cut by 10 percent (dump 10 percent two and a half notches of the mix) so as to reduce the Black dyestuff in it from 3 to 2.70 pounds. But that also reduces the Navy to 18 pounds and the Brown to 9 pounds, so then we add 9 pounds of the one and l8 pounds of the other; and finally fill to the top again (or rather to the 25th notch) with water.
Other kinds of alteration are topping sending the whole run of cloth through the machine again because the dye was the right shade but not heavy enough and stripping running it through again but stripping the dye off because it was too heavy, or uneven.
I make up the salt brine (having to get bags from the top of a high pile by myself this time). They think I never did it, they aren't getting any salt, we discover that the dump valve from the tank upstairs had been open. I hadn't checked this because there could be seven or eight such things to check. You got to watch that first shift, they'll kill you every time. Also I noticed that the salt when I poured it in built up in mounds instead of dissolving; found that the bottom set of blades on the agitator shaft was missing, someone on another shift had let the salt fall heavily on it and knock it off. You can stir the salt with the steam instead, but if you were to leave this on it would get too hot.
I'm sent to get a drum of Barrisol, find five scattered in the warehouse, but one is standing on top of another, one is behind stacks of other barrels, one far back on top of stacks of other barrels. I try to push 500-pound barrels off the tops of each other onto the floor, but too half-heartedly to succeed, because if one falls I don't know whether it will be damaged or whether I'll be able to stand it up. Have to go for the man who drives the Hyster, he comes at his usual crazy speed, braking in the last inch before corners; he enjoys maneuvering, a dozen times backward and forward, to turn in the aisle of barrels and get the lobster-like claws to the barrel I want. The claws pinch, gently denting the barrel as if it's made of paper, and pick it up as if it's an ounce. I get my barrel truck ready to take it, but he has already rushed it to the elevator for me.
In the middle of making a base mix, water running, acid and acetate reacting, I hurry to weigh out something on the floor weigher, find someone has parked on it an A-frame of cloth; and no jack is nearby to move it with.
Caustic and hydro
We're going to hep the old man (R.C.) make up his caustic-and-hydro for him on number 5. Another time I spend the whole evening doing this job.
Two tanks side by side, one runs out about every half hour. I then cut the other one on and start refilling the one that has run out. Three quarters full with water, then tip in 90 pounds of caustic, then wait till the other tank is down to about five notches, then tip in the 45 pounds of hydro, and a couple of cupfulls of Duponol, stir the mix with steam, fill it to the top with water. I get the ingredients ready in advance and lug them to stand waiting on the platform. Liquid caustic from the caustic tap at the other end of the room, I bring it in two cans, 45 pounds in each, I weigh the first time, then know that I merely have to fill up to a certain rim inside the can. Hydro (hydrosulfite of soda) is a white powder, I wear a mask while weighing it out.
This caustic-and-hydro runs to the second pad on machine 5, where it fixes and reduces the brown dye being applied to 81,994 yards of cloth.
Fetching drums of hydro from a small remote storeroom off the side of a warehouse:
The drums are labeled CAUTION, DO NOT DROP. But they've been stacked three high by Hyster, therefore they have to be pulled down from on top of one another that's the first step, there's no other way. Drum drops heavily, almost always caves in at one side, it is metal but flimsier than some cardboard drums. Lids may break open and most of the contents spill, or the drum may still be usable. Next problem is that the base of the drum is so made that it doesn't easily go onto the toes of the barrel-truck the way all others do. You generally have two or three tries, the drum sliding down onto its side, and, by its weight, pushing you and the barrel-truck before it. You heave it up; during which the clasping hook on the barrel-truck has to be held out of the way with your chin as you have no hand free with which to keep it off. All this is done in virtual darkness, there's no light in the little room, the nearest lightbulb hangs on the far side of the warehouse and doesn't shine directly into the storeroom even if you open the doors wide. If you do manage to get the drum onto the barrel-truck, the truck is stopped or tripped by obstacles on the floor. You can make out dimly that the floor is covered with random sheets of metal, the remains of fallen drums squashed flat, but their edges bend back and stick up to trip you. They are all obscured and half buried by spilt hydro dust. If you're too long getting the needed drums of hydro, someone is sent to look for you, since it's very possible that a drum has fallen on you, and the storeroom is too remote for anyone to hear your cries.
One evening our drug room is full of a nasty brown smell. At first I associate it with the holes in the barrels of sulfur dye, but it's caused by the smoke from the boilerhouse chimney, which happens to be stooping straight down into our window.
Next evening there is a smell like rancid butter, I don't know what it comes from.
Then about nine o'clock I take one of my walks along the drug room. Half way, just past a window, I pass through something in the air which makes me cough. I look around to see what barrel or vat or puddle it may come from. Go along to the end of the room, and to and fro a little, to make sure it's real. Then I stroll back and, after getting a piece of cloth to blow my nose, pluck up courage to mention it to them. Doug is reading his South Carolina Market Bulletin, Allyn is staring blankly ahead. There's a bad smell along there, I wonder whether it comes from the chimney or one of the tanks? Do what? I say there's a terrible smell, I wonder whether it comes from there or there (with my thumb). Allyn gets up and strolls along the room with me. Reaching the window, half way: You stay here, I know what it is. He holds cloth to his nose, strolls to the end, where a bucket right at the end of the end platform is smoking. For a long time he tips things, pours water on things, strolls back part way to look and go do some more, holding the cloth to his nose all the time with one hand, while I peer from the distance, consumed by curiosity. Allyn is now silhouetted against an irregular cloud, which is being sucked out through the ceiling by the fan above or is it? if so, inefficiently. I fear that when he comes back he won't explain to me candidly what has happened, since something must have gone wrong with a process he ought to have been watching. Doug at the other end of the room is still reading his paper, taking no notice; then he goes out. At last, with as little haste as ever, Allyn strolls back, in his heavy rectangular manner which makes it look as if his left arm swings forward as his left foot does, though this is not so strolls back to me and past me, to the other end of the room, where he spends a long time spitting, turning to breathe deeply at the window, spitting, breathing deeply. Almost dramatic, if you didn't know that his solemnity (and spitting) are about the same at normal times. Finally, judging that I won't be rebuffed in favor of more heavy breathing, I ask him what happened.
It's that hydro: catches fire if a drop of water gets in it. R.C. cleaned out his tank, a drop of water must have fell in the bucket of hydro, he should have had a lid over it or thrown it out. It takes time to catch fire. It can kill you, that stuff. The fumes, starting from the extreme end of the room, had occupied half the room before being noticed by us at the extreme other end. It was not his fault nothing was supposed to be brewing any more on platform 5. Allyn had explained, though I imagined Doug would have explained more fully.
Living things (again)
Revisiting the Muriatic Yard (where the barrel of that acid is kept) one evening to get a moment of cool air:
The pilewort flowers have reached the tops of their tubes. But someone has lopped off the top of the other composite plant, that I was hoping to identify if it should flower. There is a dog-fennel that I didn't notice before. A small black cricket among these plants.
The sky of this little yard is partly filled by the top of the boilerhouse chimney and its cloud of smoke, outlined against what is left of the twilight. A bright yellow crescent moon is sloping downward and Jupiter is near it.
There was an evening of good rain after a drought, I went out in it to the little yard to see how the pilewort was flourishing. Its heads were now bottle-shaped because the ovaries had swollen; the tubes beyond them were purplish. The heads had all nodded over on their stalks, and these stalks were occupied by aphids, with a few ants tending them, but on one branch of the plant there were no aphids, and a little ladybug red back, no spots was wiping her mouthparts as if with satisfaction. I was about to try and transfer her to where the aphids still were, but an old man came through the yard and I pretended to be merely passing too.
Insect on the back of my hand, a sixteenth of an inch long or less, with the shape and fuzzy thorax of a bee-fly, blue. Wings pointing opposite ways most of the time like a bee-fly, and each with a black line on it ending outward in a spot.
Working on the machines
I arrive to find that Ray is working over again for four hours, making the bases, so I'm sent to do something new: minding the end of a machine, Number 5.
15,000 yards of cotton are to be run through it, dyed black with sulfur dye. The tape is through the machine, stationary, holding the way for the cloth to follow. First I have to pull the tape. There must also be power turning the rollers and helping me, but it's long and strenuous. I pull the tape down from over my head, dumping it in a bin. 600 yards of it, which presumably means that the cloth's pathway through the machine will be about that long.
This dark brown nylon tape is the kind I once found in great quantity at the mill's dump used it to make pack and sleeping bag, but found it was no good because it rotted.
At last appears the end of the tape, sewn to a green cloth which at first is as narrow as the tape, then tapers outward till it is the width of the cloth (about four feet). Then, sewn to that, the beginning of the cloth itself. It is dyed black, and running now at its rate of about four feet a second.
R.C. uses his hand to swat part of it over a board near us, and it goes on accumulating on the other side of that board, out of our way. He then rips the black cloth away from the green tape-end. The tape, all stuffed into the bin, will now be carried back to the beginning of the machine: when this run of cloth is ended, the tape, sewn to it again, will follow it through the machine, thus holding the route again. The same tape is used over and over, so that the stream of material through the machine is perpetual, every lot sewn to the tape and that to the next lot and that to the same tape and that to the next lot. Because of the tape, the machine shouldn't have to be rethreaded; but often it does, because the cloth breaks. Or a different route has to be taken leaving out, maybe, a box, or two out of the four rollers in a box.
Meanwhile the cloth, spilling down a wooden slope, is accumulating on a kind of wooden standing-place. But a string, made also of cloth but merely a wretched narrow rag, holds the last part of the route. This consists of several more free rollers and other details, and a final powered roller, under which is stationed the A-frame, onto which the cloth will be rolled. R.C. ties the string to the beginning of the cloth, and switches on the powered roller. Instantly the string snatches the cloth away, through the final stages, to the powered roller. This is out on a pair of hinged arms, so that it can be lowered, and it has been lowered on top of the A-frame roller; and the A-frame roller has first had a lot of double-sided sticky tape wound around it. The result is that the cloth is driven onto the A-frame roller, and this roller, though necessarily inert (belonging to an object on wheels which cannot have electricity attached to it), is driven around by the powered roller resting on it; and as the cloth accumulates on the A-frame roller, it gradually in turn lifts the powered roller on its hinged arm.
My job is to stand around here and watch in case anything happens; if anything does if the cloth breaks I am to mash a button that stops the whole machine.
As I stand on the wooden standing place, a kind of bridge though only inches off the floor, the cloth pours down the board in front of me, a kind of steep lectern. Then the cloth passes under my feet. Then it rushes up, directly behind me, almost back to the ceiling; over another roller; and down again almost to the floor, but first passing a pair of air-clamps, one on each side. They are supposed to make sure that it's stretched out flat and straight, before being finally rolled up. Actually these ones don't have any air suction, they are merely pairs of small rollers which, because they are set at a downward angle, force the cloth out sideways. I notice they were made in Augsburg.
The cloth streams smoothly down my desk in front of me. The cloth isn't a very dark black, it's a little greenish. Under the bright light, I can easily see through it; little marks on the wood behind stand more real than the passing cloth. I can see only the warp of the cloth; I can follow each thread in it, rushing along, like a black ridge on a gramophone record, except that these ridges do not migrate sideways. There are discernible variations in the spacing or perhaps the thickness of warp threads across the cloth: it occurs to me that these may be like the imprint of the particular weaving machines which made it personal, and, with much care, detectable, like fingerprints or tree-ring dates or letters produced by a particular typewriter.
This standing-place and inspection-surface are not the best place for me to watch: if the cloth breaks it will more likely be back somewhere in the middle of the machine, so it's better for me to watch the
very next reach of cloth, just back of the inspection surface (the space between the two is where I stood to pull the tape out of the
machine). This cloth is emerging from the wash-boxes and doubling back upwards into the drying ovens. So it is wet and glossy, whereas the cloth on the inspection surface is dry and almost
too hot to touch. (It's still hot, of course, when it reaches the final roller, and cools slowly while being stored there; I wonder how the heat escapes from the middle.)
A bell rings beside me: this means I must step out into the corridor and look back to the beginning of the machine, where Joe makes a signal with his fingers. His signal means he's put a clip on the edge of the cloth to my left, and I must watch for it and take if it off when it reaches me. These flat steel clips are put on when the cloth edge, or selvage, has started folding itself over; this double selvage would extend itself all the way through the machine and stay there; so the clip is put on to straighten it out, and chases the double selvage all the way through the machine, eliminating it from roller after roller just as it has formed. I watch with a novice's vigilance; the clip at last appears; I snatch it off; it's hot and I have to drop it on the floor. And I didn't realize his signal meant he was sending two clips. The second gets past me; is eventually knocked off by the air-clamps.
There is a place for putting these clips one of several paper cups squashed into the hollow of a vertical girder and paper-taped there, the others being for little blue card reports, and things like that but I keep my clip and play with it. I clip it on at the inspection-surface, let it travel under my feet, catch it as it comes up the other side. Then I let it go on, up to the ceiling and back, catch it just before it hits the air-clamp. Then I find I can make it go through the air-clamp safely. Then I let it go all the way to the final A-frame roller, but I can't get it off there till this roller has more on it and is turning more slowly. Then I dare to put the clip on the wet reach of cloth, and let it go up into the ovens, because I want to see how long it will take passing through them. I get it on askew, it rushes away before I can straighten it, and never emerges, lost somewhere in the ovens. Later I do send one through, and it takes less than a minute, less than I expected. When they ring the bell and send another clip through to me, I count seconds again and find that the whole passage through the machine is under two minutes (unless they didn't bother to ring the bell till the clip was long on its way).
From time to time R.C. comes, switches off the final powered roller, snatches some of the cloth through under the inspection surface, tears a piece out for a sample of the color; then sews the two edges together and lets the cloth go on. The movement is actually more economical: he takes a fold in the cloth, sets it on the movable sewing machine, and begins to sew across the base of the fold; this enables him to start the tear easily, and he tears the fold off, and slings it on his shoulder; then he finishes sewing the torn edges together. He gives the sample of cloth to Elbert, who takes it to a sort of lighted hutch between the machines, where he matches its color with what it should be. Meanwhile R.C. switches the roller on again. Though the interval has been very short, a great amount of cloth has accumulated on the standing-place, and also in a J-frame which is overhead and a bit further back in the machine. It takes some minutes for the roller, going at increased speed, to take up all this slack. As soon as it does, it seems to slow down automatically to the general speed of the machine.
I feel as if I have a fever: just standing in the heat, doing nothing but watch. In this job, you do nothing, but you can't go away. The noise, the strip lights just above, and my eyes, which don't like to look upward or to keep open at all, are minor or personal disadvantages. Eddie is the watcher at the end of machine 4, near to me. He does this iob all the time. It's much hotter in the summer.
Up past a ladder near me, and a rickety landing and then a shorter ladder, there is a vista of the ends of countless rollers, in staggered patterns, rotating. They are the rollers of the hot ovens. Nearer to me, I notice the ends of rollers monstrously encrusted with dust: a hub of dust-formations is rotating inside a ring of dust-formations. Some strip lights hanging high in the Finishing area near me have a fur of dust hanging from their metal reflectors. Dust, sometimes cemented with oil, shows clearly the limits of movement on moving parts, such as a shiny steel post up and down which something rides. Rollers are increasingly dusty toward their ends where less often touched by the cloth. I amuse myself by moving my finger sideways along a roller, thus creating in the dust a spiral line, which keeps flowing along it. The roller right in front of my belly, at the lower edge of the inspection surface, seems perfectly clean, yet when I put my fingers on it they get covered with green dust. I find I can stop this roller with a certain pressure; when I let go, the cloth almost at once gets it rolling again.
The dust almost everywhere is of a whitish furry kind, which must be of textile origin. But it's nothing like so repugnant as the damp, shreddy, yellowish, smelly dust that drapes the Bleach area.
The l5,000 yards of black cloth end at last or, rather, about 15,300 because more is always allowed but I don't escape to have a drink: I have to drain two of the wash-boxes, and go upstairs to make two more tankfuls of mix for them, one of soda ash and Polyterge, the other of chrome, acetic acid, and Polyterge. I fetch the acetic acid in a five-gallon plastic bottle, set on a truck, filled from the acid hose downstairs. In the elevator, and running over bumps in the floor, much acid splashes out, and I find it as nasty on the throat as muriatic acid. Chrome is a bright orange powder, and it makes a beautiful head of orange-streaked foam on the tank. We have to dye 5,000 yards (one A-frame) of the cloth again because it was not dyed deep enough.
After this, and when the machine has been re-threaded in part, and the tanks filled again in the drug room, another lot of cloth is to be sulfur-dyed black; but this time it's a hundred thousand yards. It will still be running when we come back tomorrow.
Arcture of the dyehouse
With its motions of color set in incrustations ofblack dirt, Renfrew Mill is fuller of potential paintings than Gayley Mill. It has scenes of vortical chiaroscuro, almost as in a welding-shop. But whereas the Milliken company, with its public image and its ideological pretensions and its money spent on propaganda and glossy literature and improvements and fringe benefits (and its more money altogether), might have tolerated my doing a painting, and might have found some use for it, Abney is a basic company, interested only in grinding the basic work out of its workers, and giving away nothing in time, safety-procedures, appearances, cleanliness, public relations.
Steve Spratt tells me that the water coming out of Gayley Mill is used for a fish-pond, to demonstrate how unpolluted it is. And that Milliken has thirty or so mills; computers make up the dye-formulas; the dyeing is done by a different method, stuffing the cloth into a tank where the dye is squeezed through the whole lot of it at once.
I wanted to paint an arcture a view from my eyes (if possible, encased in the grubby little anti-salt-powder mask), down the worn and dye-splashed and filth-engrained front of my shirt and pants, to my feet clad against safety-regulations in mere sandals, up along the marvelously stained floor, to some barrels and crumpled rags, in a brown melancholy light from a distant window behind.
I can paint my own sordid garments any time and place (they are so sordid and misshapen the legs having almost come apart at four or five places that they deserve a separate full-view portrait of their own). But how to carry away in my head the mill appearances, since sketching an outline is liable to draw a crowd? Perhaps I can smuggle in a borrowed camera with my sandwiches and take a snapshot of the floor. If I'm a moment too late hiding it as someone pushes open the door, I'll be an industrial spy for sure. Or a lunatic.
Along at the end of the drug room is the part of the floor most liable to spills of the messiest stuff, Sodyefide liquid; soda ash is spread to make it less slick. The Sodyefide is black oily gum, the soda ash is like very hard-trodden snow, but with stains, such as blackish patches flowering with the orange crust of spilt chrome.
There's an especially filthy black-greasy part, half under a platform, which I wish I could use. But Doug gets a hoe and scrapes it out. It's made of some kind of compacted viscous stuff which has become elastic, almost organic, and as he tries to pull some out, it severs itself into ribbons, which recoil, shrink back out of reach.
When I took a walk through the Finishing Department (mainly to look for James Hornbuckle the Cherokee and have a talk with him) I was accosted by a woman I had never seen before, who said Are you the boy who did the drawings? Would you mind doing one of my little girl? She pulled a photo out. I hope you don't mind? I said to her last night, 'A real artist is going to do a picture of you,' and she couldn't believe it! I said something about how we couldn't disappoint her, and I would rather draw her from life. The woman added: And there's a photo of my other girl in here too showing an unfortunate spotty teenager I don't know whether you'll get time to do her too . . . Later I found there was a third photo in the packet, of a teenage boy. The woman asked whether I charged money, I said no, I did a pastel picture of the little girl, using a wooden enlarging-device to hasten the boring (and precarious) task of getting her outline; didn't find the will to do the two others, though fearing that the teenage girl might feel still more crushed by her spots. People said to me: She had a nerve. You better charge her something. So I asked the woman for a dollar.
In the weekend I went to find Allyn's house near Pumpkintown. Pumpkintown or Pumpkingtown on one of the road signs is little more than a store by a crossroads, though in the wooded hills that look down on it there is quite a population. Allyn's directions, drawn on a scrap of paper, were more accurate than I expected, and his house was a surprise. From his first instructions I had expected a plain house of exactly the same semi-suburban kind as those near the mill, in a diffuse row of the same houses. But it was in a real neck-of-the-woods, at the end of its own improbable dirt lane, a little wooden house painted red (he hadn't even mentioned this) with rocking-chairs on the porch, spots of color made by bleach cans and a whisky bottle and a cardboard carton and a scarlet gas burner on an outside table, mown grass extending all around into the trees, a terrace with some azalea seedlings along its edge. And there indeed was the blackgum (tupelo) shooting up through the branches of the much vaster white oak. which dwarfed the house and rained acorns on its iron roof; and a stump where another oak was destroyed by lightning, and in the same group a fine dogwood which he hadn't mentioned; and a romantic slope away to the woods, with his hog and chicken pens along the foot. The little beagle mother came out to meet me, and later two of her shy puppies, the third being much too man-shy to come near Allyn even.
Allyn himself was not there. His name is really Allen, but Doug pronounces the last vowel as i, and in the noise of the mill it even sounds like Elly.
I sat in the sun for two hours painting a rather good picture, using inks. I only wished I had more room on the paper: the obvious way to show the house was to show it vivid (with hard color and detail) but dwarfed, under the huge tree and in the hall-like sweep of the acre of landscape which belonged to it. And I wished I didn't have to leave blanks in the foreground for Allyn and for the dogs, which were out of sight again under the house and which wriggled too much. A woman drove up: Where's Allyn at? She had seen my previous drawing of him, otherwise there would have been no explaining me. She said her name was Lily Trotter, and went away. When Allyn came, he said Yes, that's my wife. Were those your two children with her? and he said they were his wife's brother's kids. Allyn, it seemed, had found it suited everybody better if he lived apart, in this shack in the woods, but he and his wife were still good country neighbors.
He got the mother beagle to pose, by feeding her on the ground in front of me; we had to give up on the others. (And I forgot to put his rifle in the picture.) He posed, by standing stiffly. With the very little room remaining at the bottom of the paper (it was a light gray sheet in a book of sample papers that someone had given me, and it had Linweave Text and a number printed at the bottom), it was hard to get Allyn small enough in relation to the house behind him, and the beagle small enough in relation to Allyn behind it, or the beagle's feet far enough down the paper to make it seem near enough to explain its size, or Allyn's feet far enough back from the beagle's and far enough forward from the house . . . I did not solve these problems partly because, as soon as I had drawn the beagle, they were insoluble, and partly because Allyn was standing like a nervous statue in the hot sun, and trusting me to draw a likeness of him, in the tiny space I had to assign for his head, with the brush I had been using and so, by perspective, the beagle looked big enough to come up to Allyn's waist, and Allyn big enough to come up to the eave of his house.
But Allyn didn't notice any of this, and the picture was not ruined. These disproportions turned it from an ordinary sophisticated picture into something like the naive image that he expected: a mountain man by his house in the woods. His way of praising it was to say, over and over, There's not a thing in the world wrong with that! He made me take five dollars for it, and then again: There's not a thing in the world I would take for that picture!
He took me to see the hogs and chickens; told me that he lets surplus chickens roam outside, so that they feed themselves and so that the foxes have no reason to raid the pen. I climbed up his white oak, and strained my ankle jumping down. From the top I could see a steel roof in the valley: he said it was his brother's farm, He keeps four hundred hogs. (Appropriate for a man named Trotter.) He told me his house was built in 1931, almost at the same time as the concrete bridge in the road toward Table Rock, just below in the valley, which he had helped build; and that his people lived just over in Pumpkintown, and he had chosen this spot to live when he got out of the navy at the end of the war (he made seven trips across to Britain in a ship taking medical supplies). I said to m'seff, 'This is where I want to die.' But he only rented the land; it and forty acres around about belonged to Blanche Burgess, one of the great ones of Pumpkintown.
Allyn was not really at ease with me too polite and grateful but, on his own ground, he was nearly so. As we sat on a yoke with nothing to talk about for a time, I ventured to tell him that I thought he had an eye for drawing in a way the others did not, and I left with him the whole book of Linweave paper samples, in case he felt like drawing anything.
There is still some cotton in the countryside. September 10, I see an army of sudden white cotton heads in a triangle of flat meadow between the road to Pumpkintown and the stream that is the border of Pickens County. Perhaps survivals. But Doug tells me (September 28) he saw a field of cotton over toward Tigerville, which looked as if someone planted it and forgot about it: it was in rows, but unthinned, and perhaps because of this crowding the crop was late, not opened yet.
As for Doug, with the most crumpled and kindly face of all, I never got to draw him (except once or twice by stealth). I thought everything was leading up to my doing a portrait of him. But he avoids joining in the palaver over the pictures, just stands by and lights his pipe. Being rather cultured and independent in his plain-man's way, he is above this naive awe.
After painting Allyn's house, I got to thinking that I might again play at making a business of doing little paintings for people (preferably their houses or their grandfathers, in a last resort their children) by extending a local reputation, perhaps even putting an ad in the paper. Doug: It would be cheaper to take a photograph.
I must have actually talked about my idea to him. For the mill, that will have been a supernova of exuberance.
Alvin Henderson, the prim man who brought me the problem about the roof of his friend's house (or his own?), is the second-shift supervisor in Finishing, hence boss of the woman who made me do the pastel picture of her kid. Now he comes along when I'm minding one of the dye-machines and also pulls out a photo of his little daughter and wants a real, handmade picture to frame. Foolishly I accept again because I'm thinking as above, because he offers me twenty dollars (I say ten will
be enough), because I'm almost about to leave the mill and I imagine I'll have more time. He wants an oil painting; more class.
Now I have long left the mill and the only relic of it is the wretched commission from Alvin Henderson. I vowed never again to draw a face from a photo; why didn't I keep to that? The enlarging device removes only some of the labor of getting proportions; it doesn't replace the luck necessary for the clinching of likeness. The little girl, for her age, has a remarkable flavor to her face; I haven't caught it in the slightest. Finally I have a diluted sort of likeness; by this time, having been worried at so much, it is an exquisitely polished pastel painting. But Alvin asked for an oil-painting. That was impossible, I gave it up at the first attempt. Shamefacedly I want to take only five dollars from him (which would work out at less than a dollar an hour). But now he wants me to make a matching portrait of his son! He's made a special frame for the first portrait, everybody admires it, the boy wants to be drawn from his photograph too. I can see his point but my vow! I say I'll try, but I may decide I just can't; I soon realize that I'll have to. Alvin calls me up once a week. At last I set myself to do it. It doesn't take long and is immediately successful, even though the boy, unlike his sister, has a featureless and coarse face, I turn out an even more polished picture, with an individual expression, and a gentle one. I almost don't want to let the picture go, hack-work though it is. The whole family comes around to collect it. As usual, both subjects have grown at least six years since their photographs, don't look at all like my pictures, and are delighted with them.
A new, bigger NOW HIRING sign has been put up on the corner in front of the mill; it precisely blocks the view of drivers trying to turn onto the main road. I imagine drivers dragged bleeding before the old doctorm, pronounced fit to work, dragged to the machine room.
And the pine-wood, over which you see the mill chimney smoking as you go north along the road from Traveler's Rest, now has a sign in front of it:
Across the road from it is the cemetery, with its rolling lawns and duck-pond. In this half mile between pine-wood and cemetery, the road is beautiful, preserved from the little houses and gas-stat1ons and stores and other human litter which, along the roads, reach almost all the way up to the mountains.
Gerald Griggs, as representative of Traveler's Rest Man: Yes, opposite the cemetery, very handy, ha ha! But no, it's going to be good for us. Raise 1and values. Maybe lead to a bit of development the way we ought to have gone long ago, like Mauld1n.
I: Do you know whether they're going to leave a screen of the trees in front of 1t? I don't know. Why would they?
Steve Spratt: You know what it is? They're giving the land to the county for this hospital so as to get the county off their back about pollution. They could control their pollution very eas1ly.
The industrialists of Greenville talk
of the factory to be builtat the other end of the town by the Michelin
tire-company, from France. They will pay the rates they have been
used to paying elsewhere. It may force the others to raise their wages
and their working conditions.
Faint copy of handwritten letter, marked by me 1973 March 18:
Stop The Pollution [drawing of smoke and a dead flower]
Dear Renfrew Mills,
I have to see the smoke from the smokestack every day and it is a very ugly sight. After a long time it will kill all the plants. Then the plant eating animals will die, leaving the other animals including Humans with no food. Then we'll all die. Could you try to make the smoke less black?
Signed by Miranda, Roland, Karin, and Pussinboots Our Cat, with her paw-print.
The drawings, made with pencil on the backs of mill inventory sheets, have been rescued with some difficulty.