Loading the player...
Interview conducted as part of the Crafted with Pride project, which documented residents of Gaston County's mill village communities. Labe Abernathy of Lowell, born in 1921, describes life as proprietor of a small-town country store. His father founded the store in the McAdenville, and Abernathy and his brothers all worked there. After World War II (in which Abernathy served almost four years in the Air Force in the UK) Abernathy took over the store, with his brothers, and he worked there for the rest of his life. They sold groceries, feed, clothing, shoes, tools, even live chickens, and many other products needed by their rural and mill clientele. Abernathy went to school in McAdenville and then Lowell for high school, transferring to St. Leo’s Catholic school in Belmont. He attended Belmont Abbey College. Before the war, when his father was running the store, a sales person would go to the mill houses and take orders for goods to be delivered later that day. He says his father was a generous man who readily extended credit to everyone even during the Depression, and says that most of the customers were able to settle their accounts when times were better. In terms of prices, he says Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola were a nickel; bread was ten cents a loaf; a chicken cost a quarter (purchased live, then killed and dressed in the store); steak was about thirty cents a pound; coffee twenty cents a pound. Abernathy says that after the war, when bigger stores like A&P and Piggly Wiggly came in, their own store had to switch to more self-service on the “cash and carry” model in order to compete. Store inventory was supplied from wholesale warehouses via orders placed with the wholesalers’ agents called “drummers.” Large things like bales of hay came in on freight cars of the Piedmont Northern Rail. Because McAdenville was a mill town it had a rail line to bring in raw materials to the mill and ship out finished products. Abernathy describes the “dump track” tram whereby raw materials were brought downhill (force of gravity) from Lowell to the mill at McAdenville and pulled back loaded with finished materials, by horses, to be put on cars in Lowell and shipped out. He says local people would often catch a ride either way via the dump track. He mentions Mr. Ray, the CEO of the mill before the war, as a kindly and popular person. After the war the mill was taken over by the Stowe-Pharr Corp. and run in a much more modern way. They diversified into synthetic fabrics and even wool, modernized the plant and machinery, and instituted many changes in how the plant operated (it was a slower, more leisurely place before). Among other topics Abernathy touches upon are the close ties between McAdenville and Belmont; the popularity of Easter Sunday events at Belmont Abbey, even with the Protestant townspeople of the area; some of the mill procedures like “doffing” when bobbins or spindles would get full; people’s gardens; the local churches (one Baptist, one Methodist, one Wesleyan Methodist); and baseball as a popular recreation for the men.